World News

Catalan police chief sacked as Madrid takes steps to impose direct rule

The Spanish government has taken its first steps to impose direct rule on Catalonia, firing its police chief and nominating the deputy prime minister to take control of the region.

Posted Updated

Laura Smith-Spark
Claudia Rebaza (CNN)
BARCELONA, SPAIN (CNN) — The Spanish government has taken its first steps to impose direct rule on Catalonia, firing its police chief and nominating the deputy prime minister to take control of the region.

A day after the Catalan parliament defied Madrid and voted for a unilateral declaration of independence, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy issued a decree that confirmed the sacking of Josep Lluis Trapero, head of the regional police force, the Mossos d'Esquadra.

Trapero already faced charges of sedition over his force's actions in the run-up to Catalonia's banned October 1 independence referendum. The director general of the Catalan police, Pere Soler, was also dismissed.

Rajoy appointed his Deputy Prime Minister, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, to take charge of Catalonia's government.

On Friday Rajoy dismissed Catalonia's president and cabinet, dissolved its parliament and called new elections for December 21 as part of an unprecedented package of measures to seize control of the renegade administration in Barcelona.

The Spanish government's moves came hours after the Catalan Parliament voted to "form the Catalan Republic as an independent and sovereign state." Opposition lawmakers boycotted the vote.

There were wild celebrations in the streets of Barcelona, the regional capital, by those who back secession on Friday night. Rival demonstrations into the night were held by those who favor unity with Spain.

The secessionist movement has deeply divided Catalonia, one of Spain's wealthiest regions. Some 90% voted in favor of independence in the disputed referendum, but turnout was only 43%.

It remains unclear how the Spanish government will enforce the measures announced by Rajoy. A tough crackdown could risk a repeat of the violent scenes that played out in Catalonia on October 1, the day of the disputed referendum, when national police were brought in.

Appeal for calm

Both the Spanish government and Catalan leaders have appealed for calm amid heightened tensions on both sides.

The front pages of national and regional Catalan newspapers on Saturday illustrated the depth of the divisions.

The headline on Catalan daily El Punt Avui declared "Hello Republic," with images of celebrating crowds outside the Catalan Parliament and the motion for independence approved by its lawmakers. Another Catalan daily, Ara, had the headline "The Republic, proclaimed, the government, sacked."

Meanwhile, national daily El Pais ran a headline reading "The State on its way to put out the insurrection," while fellow national daily ABC's front page declared "Spain beheads the coup."

Rajoy said Friday the government's moves, authorized by the Spanish Senate under Article 155 of the constitution, were needed to restore legality and protect the nation. Article 155 has never before been used.

Earlier, Catalan President Carles Puigdemont said legitimately elected lawmakers had cast their ballots according to a mandate earned in the October 1 referendum.

But he acknowledged that the path ahead would not be easy. "We are facing a period in which we will need to stay strong and in peace, dignified and civil as we have always been, and I'm sure we will keep being so," he said.

How did we get here?

Several times during its history, Catalonia has found itself caught between the rivalries of France and Spain.

The region industrialized before the rest of Spain and had strong anarchist, socialist and communist movements that all fought against Franco in the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s.

The current dispute goes back to that conflict. Franco repressed Catalonia's earlier limited autonomy, and in the early years of the dictatorship at least, expressions of Catalan language and culture. Four years after Franco's 1975 death, the region regained some of that autonomy.

In 2006, Madrid backed Catalonia's calls for even greater powers, granting it "nation" status and financial control. But four years later, the Constitutional Court rescinded that status, ruling that while Catalan is a "nationality," Catalonia itself is not a nation.

One of Spain's 17 autonomous provinces, Catalonia has had its own regional government with considerable powers over health care, education and tax collection. But it pays taxes to Madrid, and pro-independence politicians argue that complex mechanisms for redistributing tax revenue are unfair to wealthier areas, something that has helped stoke resentment.

Copyright 2024 by Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.