Friday 14 December 2018

Catalonia is an essential part of Spain, says King Felipe

Bank customers wait to withdraw money from a CaixaBank branch in Barcelona (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)
Bank customers wait to withdraw money from a CaixaBank branch in Barcelona (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)
Bank customers wait to withdraw money from a CaixaBank branch in Barcelona (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

Spain's King Felipe VI has spoken out forcefully against Catalonia's independence drive, saying all Spaniards must respect each other and the law.

At a prize-giving ceremony in northern Spain for the prestigious Princess of Asturias awards, Felipe said in a speech that everyone must respect the Constitution and the principles of parliamentary democracy.

Spain's Constitutional Court has said Catalonia's recent referendum on secession was illegal, and the Spanish parliament has rejected the Catalan regional government's attempts to break away.

Felipe said that Catalonia "is and will be an essential part" of Spain, receiving a standing ovation in the city of Oviedo.

Earlier Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy said his government will announce specific measures on Saturday to take control of the Catalonia region, now that an agreement has been reached with the country's main opposition parties.

Mr Rajoy refused to confirm if the agreement with the Socialists includes plans to hold regional elections in Catalonia in January, as announced by the party's negotiator earlier.

His government also reached agreement with the centre-right, pro-business Ciudadanos (Citizens) party.

Mr Rajoy, commenting on the unprecedented constitutional step he is taking to assume control of Catalonia, said: "The goal is double: the return to legality, and the recovery of institutional normalcy."

The prime minister said the Catalan crisis was only discussed on the sidelines of a European leaders' summit because the political deadlock is an internal Spanish affair.

But he said his fellow leaders share his concern that Catalan separatist authorities have acted against the rule of law and democracy.

The main negotiator for the opposition Socialist party, Carmen Calvo, said earlier that a snap election in the prosperous region had been agreed upon as part of the Socialists' support for government efforts to rein in the crisis.

The move is likely to further inflame tensions between Spain and Catalan pro-independence activists.

Catalonia's government said it has the mandate to secede from Spain after an illegal referendum was held on October 1, and it does not want a new regional election.

The central government will hold a special Cabinet session on Saturday 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.

Mr Rajoy's conservative Popular Party has an absolute majority in the Senate, so it should pass easily as early as October 27.

Spain's government also agreed on the move with the centre-right, pro-business Ciudadanos (Citizens) party, Mr Rajoy told reporters.

Although not part of the meeting's official agenda, the Catalan crisis was the main topic in corridors and sideline discussions.

Mr Rajoy has insisted that the political deadlock is a domestic Spanish affair, but acknowledged that it was a cause of concern for his fellow leaders.

He accused the Catalan separatist authorities of acting against the rule of law and democracy and said: "This is something that goes directly against the basic principles of the European Union."

European leaders have supported Mr Rajoy in its escalating conflict with the separatists.

Offering his "full, entire support," French president Emmanuel Macron blamed extremist forces for "feeding" on separatism as a kind of division within Europe and a "factor of destabilisation".

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.

The crisis over Catalonia's quest for independence escalated on 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, Mr Puigdemont sent a letter to Mr Rajoy just minutes before a deadline set by Madrid for him to backtrack on his calls to secede.

Mr Puigdemont did not 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 Saturday's Cabinet session to activate Article 155.

Press Association

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