Spanish PM: Powers of Catalan administration will be transferred to central government

The Spanish government will administer Catalonia directly from Madrid subject to approval by the Senate, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said at a press conference. He added that Madrid wants to curb the powers of the Catalan parliament.

Rajoy declared on Saturday that the government wants to dissolve the Catalan parliament and call a snap election to restore order in the region.

He said Madrid is not revoking Catalonia’s autonomy but merely removing local leaders whose actions were against the law. Rajoy said the government was seeking unprecedented constitutional authority to ”restore order” in Catalonia.

“There is no country in the world ready to allow this kind of situation within its borders,” Rajoy said, as cited by AP. “It is my wish to call elections as soon as normality is restored.” The Popular Party led by the Prime Minister controls the majority of the Senate, and Rajoy himself has the backing of major opposition parties.

The government did not initially want or intend to rule Catalonia directly, according to Rajoy, but took this unprecedented step to ensure that public services and the economy remain functional.

Rajoy requested the Senate authorize him to dissolve the Catalan government. Central government ministers will assume the powers of Catalonia’s officials, Rajoy said.

The snap election will take place in six months, the Prime Minister said. The measures taken by Madrid are expected to be approved now by Spain's Upper House (the Senate) on October 27.

His cabinet has invoked Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution which allows Madrid to intervene and impose direct rule when one of Spain’s seventeen autonomous regions does not abide by the law. The measures will remain in effect until a new Catalan government can take office.

Reacting to the announcement, Catalonia’s vice president Oriol Junqueras promised to meet supporters at a protest “against totalitarianism” planned to take place in Barcelona on Saturday afternoon.

“Today more than ever, let’s defend democracy and civil and political rights,” he tweeted.

Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont is expected take part in a protest later in the day and address the Spanish government's decision in a speech. Earlier, Puigdemont had threatened to call a vote in the regional parliament for an open declaration of independence from Spain.

Barcelona’s mayor Ada Colau, who is herself opposed to independence, also criticized the central government, calling its actions “a serious attack” on Catalan autonomy.

READ MORE: Catalonia leader threatens to declare independence if Spanish govt suspends autonomy

In Madrid Pablo Echenique, of the far-left PODEMOS opposition party, called for the ousting of Rajoy and his conservative government.

Amid the lingering dispute, Spain’s secret services said on Friday that a number of government websites suffered from hack attacks in recent weeks with cyber assailants posting slogans in support of Catalan independence.

On Saturday, a spokeswoman for Spain’s Constitutional Court told AP the body's website has been hit by a cyberattack which came at the time when social media accounts linked to the Anonymous hacktivist group launched a campaign to “free Catalonia.”