The government of Spain has taken control of Catalonia for the first time in nearly four decades, firing the regional government and dismissing the head of the local police force, after the Catalan parliament made a unilateral declaration of independence.
Carles Puigdemont, the President of the Government of Catalonia, and his cabinet were formally removed from their posts, and their powers and responsibilities taken over by central government in notices posted to the official state bulletin on Saturday morning.
It was gathered in the bulletin that the government handed control of Catalonia to Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister, Soraya Saenz de Santamaria.
Earlier, Spain’s interior ministry took charge of Catalonia’s police after firing senior Catalan police officials.
On Friday, PM Mariano Rajoy announced the dissolution of the regional parliament and the removal of the Catalan leader, and called snap local elections.
Demonstrations for and against independence went on into the night. A large rally “for the unity of Spain and the constitution” is being held in Madrid.
The Catalan government has not yet responded, but the president, his allies and supporters are widely expected to defy the orders to leave their posts.
Josep Lluís Trapero, head of the regional Mossos d’Esquadra police, who won praise for his response to the August terrorist attacks, has been the only official to say he will comply, accepting a demotion to commissar.
A 10-day general strike has already been called by one of Catalonia’s biggest unions in support of the new republic of Catalonia, starting on Monday. Some of the region’s 200,000 civil servants have already said they will not accept orders from Madrid.
The move to quash Catalan powers under Article 155 of the Spanish constitution is likely to anger many in a region of some 7.5 million people that enjoyed considerable autonomy, with control over education, healthcare and police.
It is the first time the central government has curtailed autonomy in the region since dictator Francisco Franco’s repressive 1939-75 rule.
Independence supporters have warned they will resist the temporary measure, implemented under a constitutional article devised to rein in rebel regions.
“We won’t cave in to Rajoy’s authoritarianism nor to 155,” the far-left CUP party, an ally of Puigdemont, tweeted on Friday.
A motion to declare Catalonia a “republic” was passed Friday with 70 votes out of 135 in the regional parliament, where pro-secessionists hold sway.
Catalan leaders point to the “Yes” vote in the deeply-divisive October 1 referendum as a mandate for independence, even though less than half of voters took part.
Echoing widely-held fears, Federico Santi, Europe analyst at political risk consultancy Eurasia Group, warned the crisis could become violent, with “more serious clashes between national police and pro-independence activists.”