Spain's foreign minister denies a 'coup' in Catalonia

By Ben Hooper  |  Oct. 22, 2017 at 11:02 AM
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Oct. 22 (UPI) -- Spanish Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis denied accusations that the government's plans to oust Catalonian leaders amounts to a "coup."

Dastis told the BBC he strongly disagrees with Carme Forcadell, who said the plans announced Saturday by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's government were a "de facto coup d'etat."

"If anyone has attempted a coup, it is the Catalan regional government," Dastis said.

Forcadell said Saturday Rajoy had "announced a de facto coup d'etat with which he aims to take over Catalan institutions.

"We will not take a step back. We were chosen by the people of this country as legitimate representatives, and as public servants we owe ourselves to them," CNN quoted Forcadell as saying.

Rajoy announced Saturday that he plans to begin removing Catalonia's leaders from office, including President Carles Puigdemont, and take control of the region amid a drive for independence.

Rajoy, after an emergency meeting of his cabinet in Madrid, said he would invoke Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, which allows direct rule in a crisis on any of the country's semi-autonomous regions.

"If there is a coup d'etat, this is one followed by Puigdemont and his government," Dastis told the BBC.

"What we are doing is following strictly the provision of our constitution," he said. The foreign minister described the document as a "carbon copy of the German constitution."

"If you look at the rest of democracies and certainly partners in the European Union, they wouldn't accept a decision as such to be taken by a part of the country," Dastis said.

Hours after Saturday's announcement, Puigdemont joined an estimated 450,000 demonstrators in Barcelona. Chants at the demonstration included, "Freedom! Freedom! Freedom!" and "Rajoy, Rajoy, so you know we are leaving!"

Spain's Senate must approve Rajoy's measure, which would mark the government's first-ever invocation of Article 155.

Spanish law dictates elections must be held within six months of Article 155, but Rajoy said it was necessary to push up the timetable.

"What I have faced is something that I have never confronted in my many years in politics, but I didn't choose my interlocutor," Rajoy said.

The controversy follows Catalonia's disputed Oct. 1 independence referendum.

The referendum saw 90 percent of ballots supporting independence, with a turnout rate of 43 percent amid a boycott by many opposing independence.

Puigdemont and other regional leaders suspended a declaration of independence to allow for talks. He then ignored two deadlines set by the national government.

Rajoy said his government was aiming to end "a unilateral process, contrary to the law and searching for confrontation."

"No government of any democratic country can accept that the law be violated, ignored and changed," he said.

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