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21 Oct, 2017 19:05

Catalan leader: Madrid’s steps toward direct rule are ‘worst attacks’ since Franco’s dictatorship

Catalan President Carles Puigdemont has slammed Madrid’s decision to impose direct rule on Barcelona as "the worst attack against the institutions and the people of Catalonia since the military dictatorship of Francisco Franco."

Puigdemont announced that he had asked the regional parliament to hold a debate on the measures taken by Madrid and added that the people of Catalonia would never accept such a decision by the central Spanish government.

"I ask the parliament to meet in a plenary session during which we, the representatives of the citizens' sovereignty, will be able to decide over this attempt to liquidate our government and our democracy and act in consequence," Puigdemont said in a televised speech.

Earlier, the head of the Catalan parliament, Carme Forcadell, said that the Catalan authorities were not going to take “a step back” in their pursuit of independence and were ready to defend Catalan sovereignty “now more than ever.”

She also accused the central government of carrying out “an authoritarian coup within the EU” and sharply criticized Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy for what she called “great political irresponsibility.”

Earlier, Rajoy said his government wants to dissolve the Catalan parliament and call a snap election to restore order in the region. He also said that the powers of the Catalan government would be temporarily transferred to Madrid, adding that the relevant proposal was already sent to the Senate for approval.

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.

Madrid’s decision provoked a wave of outrage in the secessionist region as hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets of the regional capital, Barcelona, to voice their discontent with the central government’s move.

Catalan politicians also slammed Madrid’s move. The former head of the regional government, Artur Mas, called the central government’s actions “political myopia” while Marta Pascal, a Catalonian MP from Puigdemont’s Catalan European Democratic Party denounced them as “barbarity” and a “shame to democracy.

Puigdemont had earlier threatened to call a vote in the regional parliament for an open declaration of independence from Spain.

'We are not aggressive, they are aggressive'

RT spoke to Catalans out on the streets in protest, who said they were resolved to avoid violence in response to Madrid's encroachment.

“Triggering Article 155 is unreasonable violence against the Catalan people,” one protester told RT.

“We are not aggressive, they are aggressive,” another said, adding that she hopes that “everyone who is in favor of Catalonian independence” will join her in protesting the central government’s crackdown.

Some, on the other hand, also criticized the Catalan government's clumsy handling of the situation as putting the region at risk of descending into chaos.

“Independence was declared in a very messy way, so I’m not surprised by what’s happening,” a woman told RT.

The EU considers the Catalonian dispute an internal matter for Spain, but protesters accused Brussels of turning a blind eye on what they see as the oppression by the government.

“We had talk of possible support from Europe, for example, but it seems that the EU is not interested at all in what’s going on here.”

Madrid’s intransigent rhetoric is detached from reality and leaves no room for negotiation, another protester said.

“I think today we live on different planets, not even countries. They say all the time the same, they repeat the same words, not only Mariano Rajoy, but the other leaders [too]. So, it’s impossible to talk to them.”

Serious concerns have been raised that the ongoing crisis can spiral into violence. Elisenda Paluzie, economics professor at University of Barcelona, told RT she believes it will not be the case in Catalonia.

“People are angry. But people in Catalonia are peaceful people, they are not going to use violence at all. I can assure you of that,” she said, noting that the pro-independence movement “has never shown any sign of violence.”