Catalan leader accuses Spain of 'worst attack' since Franco

Protesters supporting Catalan independence take to the streets in Barcelona

Some 450,000 people took to the streets of Barcelona on Saturday, local police said, after Spain moved to dismiss Catalonia's regional government to thwart its leaders' independence bid.

To block the Catalan independence push, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy wants the Senate to give him direct power to dissolve the regional Catalan government and call an early election.

The move, meant to quash an independence bid led by Catalonia's regional government, follows weeks of division triggered by a banned independence referendum on October 1.

Earlier on Saturday the speaker of the Catalan parliament Carme Forcadell the decision to force a new election is a "coup" and an "attack against democracy".

Supporters say the region does too much to prop up the rest of the national economy and would thrive if it went its own way, but opponents say Catalonia is stronger as part of Spain and that a split would spell economic and political disaster.

"The autonomy is not suspended, nor the government", he said.

"We are not ending Catalan autonomy, but we are relieving of their duties those who have acted outside the law", Mr Rajoy said.

The article allows central authorities to intervene when one of Spain's 17 autonomous regions fails to comply with the law.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's Cabinet was meeting to outline the scope and timing of the measures the government plans to take under Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution.


"We are in shock about the suspension of democracy in Catalonia", said Podemo's Pablo Echenique, vowing to work to oust Rajoy and his conservative Popular Party. Two Spanish opposition parties, PSOE and Ciudadanos, have also said they will back the Article 155 measures, Rajoy said.

Pro-independence protesters are expected to demonstrate in the center of Barcelona, Catalonia's regional capital, later Saturday.

Officials in Catalonia says regional leader Carles Puigdemont plans to join an afternoon protest before delivering a speech in response to the Spanish government's decision to take over the regional cabinet's functions.

As such, Madrid's move could anger even those against independence.

The King added that a solution would be found through Spain's legitimate democratic institutions, respecting its constitution.

The slow-burning constitutional crisis over secession escalated this month when regional government officials held a disputed independence referendum on October 1.

Rajoy's government is activating a previously untapped constitutional article to take control of Catalonia.

The country's Constitutional Court has so far ruled against all moves toward secession, including the controversial referendum. Hundreds of companies have transferred their registered headquarters out of Catalonia to other areas in Spain, fearing the chaos that independence - or the fight over it - could bring.

Following the vote, large crowds in Barcelona last weekend called for peaceful negotiations to determine the next step, but Rajoy has rejected dialogue on the grounds that the Spanish government sees Catalonia's referendum as illegal.

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