MADRID — Spain took drastic measures Saturday to stop Catalonia from breaking away, announcing it will move to dismiss the region’s separatist government and call fresh elections.
Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont and his regional ministers — who sparked Spain’s worst political crisis in decades by holding a banned independence referendum — will be stripped of their jobs, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said.
Puigdemont’s threat to declare a breakaway state “has been unilateral, contrary to the law, and seeking confrontation,” Rajoy said, announcing measures that could give the central government direct control over Catalonia’s police force and allow for its public media chiefs to be replaced.
After hundreds of thousands of protesters flooded Barcelona’s streets earlier Saturday to show their anger at Madrid, Puigdemont said Rajoy was guilty of “the worst attack on institutions and Catalan people” since Franco, calling for the parliament of the semi-autonomous region to meet urgently.
Barcelona police said 450,000 people joined a protest in the regional capital earlier, many chanting “freedom” and “independence” and waving Catalonia’s yellow, red and blue separatist flag.
Franco ruled Spain with an iron fist from 1939 to his death in 1975, and among other repressive measures took Catalonia’s powers away and banned the official use of Catalan language.
Puigdemont, however, did not once say the word “independence” as Spain and the rest of the European Union waits to see if he will carry out his threat to declare a breakaway state.
Catalan government number two Oriol Junqueras reacted furiously, posting on his Twitter account: “Today the PP and its allies have not only suspended autonomy, they have suspended democracy.”
And though she opposes the independence drive, Barcelona mayor Ada Colau also deplored the decision, tweeting: “Rajoy has suspended the self-government of Catalonia for which so many people fought. A serious attack on the rights and freedoms of everyone.”
Autonomy is a highly sensitive issue in Catalonia, which saw its powers taken away under the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco.
Home to 7.5 million people, the wealthy northeastern region fiercely defends its language and culture and enjoys control over its policing, education and healthcare.
Under Article 155 of Spain’s constitution, Madrid has the power to wrest back control of rebellious regions, but it has never used them before.Follow @gorkhapost
Maldives opposition legislator Ibrahim Mohamed Solih wins presidency
MALE — Maldives opposition legislator Ibrahim Mohamed Solih has beaten incumbent Abdulla Yameen according to provisional results, the country’s Elections Commission says.
Results released by the Elections Commission showed Mr Solih securing 133,808 votes (58.3 percent) compared to the 95,526 for incumbent Abdulla Yameen. The voter turnout was over 88 per cent out of the 262,000-strong electorate.
The Maldives government has acknowledged the opposition’s victory after the vote on Sunday, a surprise defeat for President Abdulla Yameen who was widely expected to win.
There were no other candidates.
Mr Solih had the backing of a united opposition trying to oust Mr Yameen, but struggled for visibility with the electorate, with local media fearful of falling afoul of heavy-handed decrees and reporting restrictions.
“I call on Yameen to respect the will of the people and bring about a peaceful, smooth transfer of power,” Solih said on television, shortly after interim results from the country’s election commission.
“We have won this election with a comfortable majority,” Solih said.Follow @gorkhapost