The Spanish government will sack Catalonia’s secessionist leadership and force the region into a new election, it decided on Saturday, unprecedented steps it said were needed to prevent the region breaking away.
The plan, which requires parliamentary approval, is Madrid’s bid to resolve the country’s worst political crisis in four decades, but it risks an angry reaction from independence supporters, who planned street protests later in the day.
Outlining the cabinet’s decision, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said Catalonia, which accounts for a fifth of Spain’s economy, was already in worrying economic shape as a result of the regional government’s push for independence.
“We will ask the Senate, with the aim of protecting the general interest of the nation, to authorize the government … to sack the Catalan president and his government,” Rajoy told a news conference.
Spain’s upper house of parliament is scheduled to vote on the plan next Friday.
It is the first time since Spain’s return to democracy in the late 1970s that the central government has invoked the constitutional right to take control of a region.
Direct rule will give Madrid full control of the region’s finances, police and public media and curb the powers of the regional parliament after it allowed an independence referendum that Madrid declared illegal.
Rajoy said he did not intend to use the special powers for more than six months and he would call a regional election as soon as the situation was back to normal.
“Our objective is to restore the law and a normal cohabitation among citizens, which has deteriorated a lot, continue with the economic recovery, which is under threat today in Catalonia, and celebrate elections in a situation of normality,” Rajoy said.
Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, was due to deliver an address at 9 p.m. (1900 GMT) after meeting with his government, his office said. He was also due to join the protests in Barcelona.
Puigdemont made a symbolic declaration of independence on Oct. 10, and on Thursday he threatened to press ahead with a more formal one unless the government agreed to a dialogue.
The Catalan parliament is expected to decide on Monday whether to hold a plenary session to formally proclaim the republic of Catalonia.
Catalan media have said Puigdemont could decide to dissolve the regional parliament himself immediately after independence is proclaimed and call elections before the Spanish senate makes direct rule effective.
Under Catalan law, those elections would take place within two months.