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Spain preparing to revoke Catalan autonomy amid independence bid

Spain's government has set in motion plans to take away Catalonia's local powers after its defiant regional president refused to give up his demands for independence.

Catalan president Carles Puigdemont sent a letter to prime minister Mariano Rajoy minutes before a deadline set by the central government for him to backtrack on his calls for secession.

Mr Puigdemont did not give in, and threatened to go ahead with a unilateral proclamation of independence if the government refuses to negotiate.

"If the state government persists in blocking dialogue and the repression continues, the parliament of Catalonia will proceed, if deemed appropriate, to vote on the formal declaration of independence," Mr Puigdemont's letter said.

The Madrid government responded by calling a special cabinet session for Saturday in which it aims to trigger the process to activate Article 155 of Spain's 1978 Constitution.

That article allows for central authorities to take over all or some of the powers of any of the country's 17 autonomous regions, including Catalonia.

The cabinet meeting will "approve the measures that will be sent to the senate to protect the general interest of all Spaniards", the statement said.

The constitutional law has never been used in the four decades since democracy was restored at the end of General Francisco Franco's dictatorship.

Madrid needs to outline the measures it wants to apply in Catalonia and submit them for a vote in the senate.

The ruling Popular Party's majority in the top chamber would be enough to approve the measure, but Mr Rajoy has held discussions with opposition leaders to rally further support.

The main opposition Socialist party backed his moves but wants the Article 155 measures to be limited in scope and time.

Mr Puigdemont addressed the regional parliament on October 10, saying he had the mandate under a banned October 1 referendum to declare independence from Spain, but he immediately suspended the implementation of the secession proclamation and called for talks with Spain and international mediators.

Madrid responded by setting two deadlines for Mr Puigdemont - a Monday one for him to say a simple "yes" or "no" to whether he had declared independence, and a second one for Thursday morning for him to fall in line with Spain's laws.

Spain's government says Mr Puigdemont has not offered any clarity in his replies.

Catalans would consider the application of Article 155 an "invasion" of the region's self-government, while Spain's central authorities have portrayed it as an undesired move, yet a necessary one, to restore legality after Mr Puigdemont's government pushed ahead with a banned referendum that violated the country's constitution.

More than 40% of Catalonia's 5.5 million eligible voters cast ballots in the illegal October 1 referendum as police used violence to try to enforce a court order to stop it from going ahead. Opponents boycotted the vote.

Catalan officials say hundreds of people were injured in police violence, while Spanish authorities say hundreds of police officers were also hurt and the use of force was proportional to the resistance they met.

The separatists declared an overwhelming victory despite the boycott by opponents, who said it was illegal and lacked basic guarantees such as an independent electoral board.

Madrid had said it would be willing to hold off on applying Article 155 if the Catalan separatist leader were to call a snap regional election, but Catalan officials have ruled that out.


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