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Spain denies ‘coup’ against Catalonia

The Spanish Foreign Minister, Alfonso Dastis, has denied that his government’s move to reassert control over Catalonia amounts to a “coup”.

Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation Alfonso Dastis Quecedo
Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation Alfonso Dastis Quecedo

The speaker of the Catalan parliament, Carme Forcadell, called measures announced by the government on Saturday a “de facto coup d’état”.

“If anyone has attempted a coup, it is the Catalan regional government,” Mr Dastis told the BBC.

Madrid acted after regional leaders refused to halt an independence drive.

The Catalan government, led by President Carles Puigdemont, points to the majority Yes vote in a referendum on independence it held on 1 October despite a ban by Spain’s Constitutional Court.

Of the 43% of Catalans said to have taken part, 90% voted in favour of independence, it said.

Unionist parties who won about 40% of the vote at the 2015 Catalan elections boycotted the ballot and many anti-independence supporters stayed away, arguing it was not valid.

What is the Spanish government’s position?

On Saturday, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy announced plans to sack Catalonia’s regional government and curtail some of the freedoms of its parliament.

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Reports suggest the central authorities will also seek to take control of Catalonia’s local police force and its public broadcaster, TV3.

“If there is a coup d’état, this is one followed by Mr Puigdemont and his government,” Mr Dastis told The Andrew Marr Show.

“What we are doing is following strictly the provision of our constitution,” he said, describing it 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.”

He also argued that “many” images of police violence against protesters on referendum day were fake.

The government itself apologised to injured demonstrators days after the vote, as a result of which 1,066 people required medical attention, according to the Catalan health department.

The ferocity of the police response was reported at the time by the BBC’s Tom Burridge.

What exactly is a ‘coup d’état’?

The French term literally means a “blow against the state” and refers to the sudden, usually violent, overthrow of a country’s government.

Catalan nationalists regard their region as a nation and state in its own right, a definition Spain does not accept.

Spain last saw a coup attempt on 23 February 1981 when soldiers and police stormed parliament, firing guns and shouting orders.

The rebellion was suppressed but came as a startling reminder of the country’s recent military dictatorship (1939-75) under Gen Francisco Franco.

President Puigdemont has described the move to impose direct rule as the worst attack on Catalonia’s institutions since Franco, when the region lost its autonomy. BBC News