People wave Catalan separatist flags during a demonstration organised by Catalan pro-independence movements ANC (Catalan National Assembly) and Omnium Cutural, following the imprisonment of their two leaders Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Cuixart, in Barcelona © Gonzalo Fuentes / Reuters
The head of the Catalan parliament, Carme Forcadell, has denounced Madrid’s decision to transfer the powers from the regional authorities to the central government as a “coup” as hundreds of thousands took to the streets of Barcelona in protest.
Earlier, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano 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.
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.
Forcadell harshly criticized Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s decision to invoke Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, which allows Madrid to intervene and impose direct rule on any of Spain’s seventeen autonomous regions in case they are judged to have violated the law.
She said that the prime minister’s actions amount to a “de facto coup d’état” and strike “a blow to democracy.”
“Prime Minister Rajoy wants the parliament of Catalonia to stop being a democratic parliament, and we will not allow this to happen,” Carme Forcadell said in a televised speech, as cited by Reuters.
“This is why we want to send to the citizens of this country a message of firmness and hope. We commit today, after the most serious attack against the Catalan institutions since they were restored, to the defence of the sovereignty of the parliament of Catalonia,” she said.
In response to the central government’s decision to transfer administrative powers from Barcelona to Madrid, hundreds of thousands of protesters flooded the center of the Catalan capital. Some 450,000 people took part in the demonstration, AFP reported, citing local police.
The massive demonstration, which initially was expected to be a protest against the arrest of the two leaders of the separatist movement detained by the central Spanish authorities on suspicion of sedition, turned into a show of resistance against the latest measures taken by Madrid.
The demonstrators also banged pots and pans as they protested Madrid’s actions. The protesters were carrying banners against article 155 of the Spanish Constitution used by the central government to seize the powers from the Catalan authorities, as well as placards that read, “Free political prisoners.”
The protesters waved Catalan flags and chanting “independence” and “freedom.” They also called for the release of Jordi Sanchez, leader of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), and Jordi Cuixart, of the Omnium Cultural Association, who were detained on the orders of Spain’s High Court.
The Omnium Cultural Association spokesman, Marcel Mauri, told the protesters at the rally that Madrid’s decision to take powers from the Catalan authorities had “destroyed democracy.” He also made a call in English for international support: “Help Catalonia, save Spain, save Europe.”
The protest was attended by the Catalan Prime Minister Carles Puigdemont, who was expected to make a speech later Saturday evening, along with Forcadell and Artur Mas, his predecessor as the leader of the Catalan regional government.
Ada Colau, the mayor of Barcelona, also joined the protest to express her criticism of the actions of the central government.
Large police forces were deployed to the area as Spanish authorities anticipated potential outbreaks of violence during the demonstration. However, the protest has so far been peaceful with no incidents were reported.