EU warns 'more cracks' in bloc as Spain dissolves Catalonia's parliament after it declares independence

EU warns 'more cracks' in bloc as Spain dissolves Catalonia's parliament after it declares independenceThe EU's most senior official warned that "more cracks" were emerging in the bloc on Friday after the Catalan parliament declared independence from Spain, plunging the country into political and economic turmoil. Madrid swiftly responded to the vote by dissolving the Catalan parliament and dismissing Carles Puigdemont as president of Catalonia and his entire government.  Mariano Rajoy, the Spanish prime minister, announced that regional elections would be held in December and said the unprecedented act of imposing direct rule on the regional was needed to "recover normality". The national police may be deployed to bring Catalonia under Madrid's control. The shock decision to declare independence poses potentially the greatest threat to the EU's unity since Brexit, and is likely to fuel support for separatist movements in Ireland, Scotland and the Basque Country. Rajoy dissolves Catalan parliament and calls snap election 00:44 "[The EU] doesn't need any more cracks, more splits … we shouldn't insert ourselves into what is an internal debate for Spain, but I wouldn't want the European Union to consist of 95 member states in the future," warned Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission president, on Friday evening. The crisis marks the first time that a region within an EU member state has broken away from the bloc, though movements demanding more independence exist in several countries. People celebrate after Catalonia's parliament voted to declare independence from Spain on October 27, 2017 Credit:  PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU Catalans cheered, hugged and drank Cava Thousands of pro-independence activists clapped and cheered in the streets of Barcelona as the votes were counted, before breaking into a spontaneous rendition of Catalonia's regional anthem. Many drank from bottles of Cava, a sparkling wine produced in Catalonia, as they waved the region's red-and-yellow flag and hugged each other. But in Madrid, the senate reacted by granting sweeping powers to Mr Rajoy which will allow him to impose direct rule over the rogue region. “I have dissolved the parliament of Catalonia and on December 21 there will be elections in that region,” he said. “I have decided to call those free, fair and legal elections to restore democracy. We never wanted to reach this situation.” Protesters shouts slogans during a rally outside the Catalan Parliament, in Barcelona He earlier said: "Spain is a serious country, a great nation, and we are not going to watch while a few individuals try to liquidate our constitution." The beleaguered prime minister held a crisis cabinet meeting on Friday evening, as the United States, France and Germany reiterated their support for a united Spain. Pido tranquilidad a todos los españoles. El Estado de Derecho restaurará la legalidad en Cataluña. MR— Mariano Rajoy Brey (@marianorajoy) October 27, 2017 Theresa May also rejected the independence vote and said it was crucial that unity in Spain was upheld. “The UK does not and will not recognise the Unilateral Declaration of Independence made by the Catalan regional parliament. It is based on a vote that was declared illegal by the Spanish courts," she said. "We continue to want to see the rule of law upheld, the Spanish Constitution respected, and Spanish unity preserved." Donald Tusk, the European Council president, said Madrid "remains our only interlocutor" following the independence vote. "I hope the Spanish government favours force of argument, not argument of force," he said. Catalan leader faces arrest A senior Spanish official said the justice ministry was now pursuing rebellion charges against those responsible for the vote, including Catalan president Carles Puigdemont. Under Spanish law, rebellion can be punished with up to 30 years in prison, with shorter penalties if the act of rebellion doesn't lead to violence. The Catalan resolution, which Madrid has dismissed as illegal, was passed by 70 votes to 10 and caused shares in Spanish companies, particularly Catalan banks, to drop sharply. CaixaBank, Spain's third largest lender, fell by around five per cent while Sabadell, the country's fifth largest lender, fell roughly six per cent. All public services to be controlled by Spain Mr Rajoy's powers were granted to him under Article 155 of the Spanish constitution, which is designed to prevent the country's 17 regions from breaking away. It is understood that a new leadership structure will now be imposed on the region’s Mossos d’Esqudra police force, whose current chief, Major Josep Lluís Trapero, is already facing a judicial investigation for alleged sedition. Madrid may also assume power over the region’s finances, including taxes and all public spending approved by Catalan officials. All Catalan public services will be subject to direct control from Madrid, potentially including the public broadcaster TV3, which has been accused of bias towards the pro-independence government. Madrid moves to suspend Catalan government 01:04 Speaking after the vote, Fernando Martínez-Maíllo, chief spokesman for Mr Rajoy's Popular Party, said the Spanish government would "proceed in a matter of hours to restore legality in Catalonia with the application of Article 155." Calls for mass civil disobedience But the main secessionist group in Catalonia, the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), called on civil servants to refuse orders from the Spanish government in an act of "peaceful resistance". Roughly the size of Belgium, the wealthy Catalan region accounts for about 16 per cent of Spain's population and a fifth of its economic output. Resentment towards interference from Madrid has been fermenting for years, and earlier this month sparked an independence vote deemed illegal by the central government and the courts. While fiercely protective of their language, culture and autonomy – restored at the end of the 1939-1975 dictatorship of Francisco Franco – Catalans are deeply divided on independence. Catalan authorities said 90 per cent voted "Yes" in the unregulated October plebiscite but turnout was only 43 percent as many who oppose a split boycotted the referendum. People react as they watch on giant screens a plenary session outside the Catalan regional parliament in Barcelona That vote was marred by violence, with more than 850 people injured by Spanish police who deployed to stop Catalans from voting. The EU was fiercely criticised for its slowness in condemning the violence, despite its track record of taking a hard line against crackdowns on democracy in the Middle East and Asia. Spanish flag taken down in Girona Local reporter Maria Garcia posted the following video on Twitter, which shows that the Spanish flag has been removed from Girona's town hall. Després de treure la bandera espanyola de l'ajuntament, ara han tret la de la seu de la Generalitat a Girona #QueNoPariLaFestapic.twitter.com/i6hOIHsWGP— Maria Garcia (@MariutGarcia) October 27, 2017 How much support is there for independence in Catalonia? Carmen Calvo, a former minister and the party’s chief negotiator with the Rajoy government on the terms of Article 155, said “Puigdemont can still call elections within the law”. Mr Puigdemont was expected to call snap elections on Thursday, but finally decided that he lacked “guarantees” that would allow a ballot to be held without repression from Spain’s authorities. How Catalonia is so important to Spain The ruling Popular Party does not need the votes of socialist senators to trigger the application of Article 155, but Mr Rajoy has been at pains to seek broad support. PSOE negotiated the terms of the social powers being invoked, but then said that snap elections should mean a stay on direct rule being imposed. The centrist Ciudadanos, which leads opposition to Catalan nationalism in the region’s parliament, has pledged its support to the government. The signing and celebrating outside Parliament of #Catalan independence seekers realise independence declaration is going ahead … pic.twitter.com/J1Gh1YEzha— Gavin Lee (@GavinLeeBBC) October 27, 2017 The Left-wing Podemos, the only national party to support a legal referendum in Catalonia, opposes both the imposition of Article 155 and any unilateral declaration of independence. Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias said on Thursday that “elections in Catalonia will not resolve the problem, but they will make it more difficult to apply [Article] 155 and provide more time to seek dialogue”.



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