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What next for Catalonia after Madrid announcement?

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What next for Catalonia after Madrid announcement?
Demonstrators hold pro-independence Catalan Esteladas flags in Barcelona on October 21st, 2017. Photo: AFP
15:57 CEST+02:00
Catalonia's separatists were planning their response Sunday after Spain took drastic steps to stop the region from breaking away by dissolving its separatist government and forcing new elections.

Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont and his regional executive -- who sparked Spain's worst political crisis in decades by holding a banned independence referendum on October 1st -- will be stripped of their jobs and their ministries taken over under measures announced Saturday by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

"Yesterday there was a fully-fledged coup against Catalan institutions," said Catalan government spokesman Jordi Turull.

"What happens now, with everyone in agreement and unity, is that we will announce what we will do and how," he told Catalunya Radio.

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Responding to accusations of a "coup", Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis retorted: "If there is a coup d'etat, it is one that has been followed by Mr. Puigdemont and his government."

He told BBC television: "What we are doing is following strictly the provisions of our constitution."

Spain's Senate is set to approve the measures by the end of next week. Rajoy's conservative Popular Party (PP) holds a majority in the upper house, while other major parties also back his efforts to prevent a break-up of the nation.

In a crisis that has sent jitters through one of Spain's most important regional economies and rattled the stock markets, Rajoy has ordered fresh elections to be called within six months of the Senate hearing, which would see polls held by mid-June at the latest.

Separatist parties of all political stripes, from Puigdemont's conservatives to the far-left, have dominated the Catalan parliament since the last elections in 2015, holding 72 seats out of 135.

Ahead of a meeting of Catalan parties Monday to set a date and agenda for a crucial session of the regional parliament to debate next steps, Turull insisted on RAC1 radio that elections were "not on the table".

Political analysts warn Rajoy faces a serious struggle to impose control over the unruly region.

Potential scenarios include Catalan civil servants and police refusing to obey orders from central authorities.

"The basic problem is that you have to govern Catalonia with the active opposition of a large part of the population," analyst Jose Fernandez-Albertos told AFP.

Asked if Puigdemont will be arrested if he shows up for work, Dastis tried to strike a reassuring tone.

"We are not going to arrest anyone," he told the BBC, dismissing the idea of the army having to be brought in to enforce order.

But he warned that if Puigdemont's government keeps trying to give orders, "they will be equal to any group of rebels trying to impose their own arbitrariness on the people of Catalonia."

National police said two young people had been charged after physically assaulting police at Saturday's Barcelona protest, which saw some 450,000 separatists flood the streets shouting "freedom" and "independence".

READ ALSO: Catalan separatists make mass cash withdrawals in protest

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