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Madrid unveils plan to take direct control of Catalonia

MADRID — The Spanish government has hit back hard in its bat..

MADRID — The Spanish government has hit back hard in its battle with Catalonia’s pro-independence leadership.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said Saturday Madrid will dismiss the whole Catalan cabinet, assume all the powers of the regional executive, limit the powers of the Catalan parliament and call regional elections within six months.

Rajoy’s decision is the latest move in a power struggle with the Catalan government, following a disputed independence referendum on October 1. The Catalan government says the vote gave it a mandate to declare independence; Madrid and the country’s courts says the referendum was illegal and invalid.

Rajoy unveiled the unprecedented plan to take over the running of Catalonia’s government under the framework of article 155 of the Spanish constitution after an urgent meeting of his cabinet that approved the measures to be sent to the senate.

The upper chamber of the parliament will start processing Madrid’s petition the same day and is expected to give the green light in a plenary session in the coming days.

Rajoy blamed the secessionist Catalan government led by regional president Carles Puigdemont for the “exceptional” situation, saying the regional executive had sought “confrontation.”

“I’m under the impression that … some wanted to reach this situation,” he said. “It wasn’t our intention.”

It is not immediately clear how Puigdemont will respond. In a letter this week, he suggested the Catalan parliament could approve a formal declaration of independence in response to the central government’s actions. Others have suggested a reshuffle of the regional cabinet or a snap election.

Puigdemont has insisted that the referendum on October 1 provides a “mandate” to break with Spain. According to Catalan government figures, which have not been verified by an independent body, 43 percent of Catalans cast a ballot and 90 percent chose secession in the vote.

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