Saturday 21 September 2019

'We will have a massive rebel paella on Rajoy's election day'

Confusion in Barcelona as Madrid orders snap poll after taking power in wake of referendum

Demonstrators shout slogans and hold Spanish flags as they protest against the secession of Catalonia from Spain. Photo: Getty
Demonstrators shout slogans and hold Spanish flags as they protest against the secession of Catalonia from Spain. Photo: Getty

James Badcock

The Spanish government has taken swift and what it hopes will prove decisive action against Catalonia's unilateral declaration of independence. It is the first time that Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy has played any direct cards in the confrontation as opposed to relying on the courts and police to rein in the breakaway region's leaders.

The decisions agreed by Rajoy's cabinet last Friday evening to use special powers granted to the government by Spain's senate to remove Carles Puigdemont as leader of the Catalan government along with all of his ministers came into effect in the early hours of yesterday, effectively undoing the declaration of a republic that had lasted only half a day.

In all, at least 150 officials and their appointed aides were swept out of a job by the measures, including the closure of Diplocat - Catalonia's network of foreign "ambassadors" that has long raised hackles with the administration in Madrid.

Juan Ignacio Zoido, Spain's interior minister and now in charge of security in Catalonia, moved to replace the chief of the regional police force, Josep Lluis Trapero.

The reason given for appointing Ferran Lopez as head of the Mossos d'Esquadra force was Major Trapero's "legal situation", given that the former police chief is one step away from being charged with sedition for his role in allegedly allowing the illegal October 1 referendum to go ahead.

The morning after the declaration of independence in Catalonia, confusion reigned in the streets of Barcelona as to what regime was in power.

"The question is who's in charge now?" said Manolo, who did not wish to give his surname. "They've fired the president and now they're telling us to hold elections."

"How can we have elections because Madrid orders them?" wondered Mireia Garcia (46).

Catalonia's pro-independence parties have to decide quickly whether and how they will take part in the snap ballot called for December 21 by Rajoy, exercising his special prerogative under emergency constitutional powers to dissolve Catalonia's parliament.

The far-Left CUP party has already said it will boycott the elections as it no longer recognises Madrid's authority. "We will have a massive rebel paella," said Mareia Boya, a CUP parliamentarian, in a jokey reference to the elections being called for a Thursday - a traditional paella day, rather than the usual Sunday.

The possibility of a boycott by pro-independence parties was seen as real enough by the former Catalonian leader, Artur Mas, who this week said it would be "lethal" to the sovereignty movement.

Seemingly exhausted by weeks of decision making over whether and how to proclaim independence, Mr Puigdemont's televised statement expressed determination but no details on what the ousted Catalan government plans to do in the coming weeks.

"Our will is to continue working to fulfil our democratic mandates," Puigdemont said. Despite being at risk of arrest for rebellion against Spanish constitutional order, Puigdemont cut a relaxed figure yesterday when he was caught by the cameras of La Sexta television channel enjoying a meal and a drink in a neighbourhood restaurant in his native Girona.

Josep Rull, one other member of the axed Catalan government, remained defiant. Announcing on Twitter that his territory and sustainability department had approved contracts to improve Catalonia's rail network worth €9.5m, Mr Rull ended the message by saying: "We continue".

In Madrid thousands massed under Colon square's massive Spanish flag to demand that Catalonia's rebellion be put to an end. "Prison for Puigdemont", demonstrators shouted.

Jorge Maran (38), an engineer, summed up many people's thoughts: "In the end, this is going to come to nothing. The Catalans aren't serious, and we're not serious, because they're not really getting independence - and we're not going to put them in prison for what they're doing."

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