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Spanish PM Rajoy eyes moves to strip Catalonia of some of its powers

Madrid refuses to confim if plan will include new regional election.

Saturday 21 October, 2017
A man holds a sign reading “Freedom Jordis” as people gather to protest in Barcelona on Tuesday. The ‘Jordis’ in question are Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart, two leaders of the Catalan grassroots organisations Catalan National Assembly and Omnium Cultural. Protesters are demanding the release of the duo, who have been jailed without bail as part of a sedition probe.
A man holds a sign reading “Freedom Jordis” as people gather to protest in Barcelona on Tuesday. The ‘Jordis’ in question are Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart, two leaders of the Catalan grassroots organisations Catalan National Assembly and Omnium Cultural. Protesters are demanding the release of the duo, who have been jailed without bail as part of a sedition probe. Foto:AFP.

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Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy says his government will soon unveil specific measures agreed with opposition parties to halt Catalonia’s independence bid, but refuses to confirm if the deal includes plans to hold a regional election in January.

The main negotiator in the opposition Socialist (PSOE) party, Carmen Calvo, said yesterday that a snap election in the prosperous region had been agreed upon as part of the Socialists’ support for Madrid’s effort to rein in the country’s deepest political crisis in decades.

Rajoy, commenting on the unprecedented constitutional step his government is taking to assume control of Catalonia, said on the sidelines of a European Union summit in Brussels that “the goal is double: the return to legality and the recovery of institutional normalcy.”

The move is likely to further inflame tensions between Spain and Catalan pro-independence activists. Catalonia’s government says it has the mandate to secede from Spain after an illegal referendum was held on October 1, and it doesn’t want a new regional election.

The central government will hold a special Cabinet session this morning to begin the activation of Article 155 of Spain’s 1978 Constitution, which allows for central authorities to take over all or some of the powers of any of the country’s 17 autonomous regions.

The measure, which has never been used since democracy was restored after general Francisco Franco’s dictatorship, needs to be approved by the Senate. Rajoy’s conservative Popular Party (PP) has an absolute majority in the Senate, so it should pass easily.

Spain’s government has also agreed on the move with the center-right, pro-business Ciudadanos (“Citizens”) party, Rajoy told reporters in Brussels.

BANK PROTEST. Meanwhile, some bank customers in Catalonia withdrew symbolic amounts of money to protest against financial institutions that have moved their official headquarters to other locations in Spain amid the political crisis.

Pro-independence umbrella group Crida Democracia called on consumers late Thursday night to put pressure on banks that made the decision. By yesterday morning, dozens of people were lining up at a CaixaBank branch in downtown Barcelona, most of them withdrawing 150 or 160 euros from ATMs. The amounts were closest to 155, in reference to Article 155.

CaixaBank and Banco Sabadell, the largest Catalan lenders, are among nearly 1,000 financial institutions and businesses that have moved their official registration out of Catalonia in the past few weeks.

The crisis over Catalonia’s quest for independence escalated Thursday, as Spain’s central government prepared to start activating Article 155 after Catalan President Carles Puigdemont refused to abandon secession.

In his latest display of brinkmanship, Puigdemont sent a letter to Rajoy just minutes before a deadline set by Madrid for him to backtrack on his calls to secede. Puigdemont didn’t give in, however, and threatened to go ahead with a unilateral proclamation of independence if the government refuses to negotiate.

Spain’s government responded by calling the Cabinet session to activate Article 155.

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