Since their successful independence referendum, Catalonia has been under pressure, including reported violence against and arrests of pro-independence Catalans.  With no support from the EU or the U. S., Catalonia stands alone as the Spanish Prime Minister announced that he will be removing Catalan government officials and imposing direct rule.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy announced that he is invoking Article 155 of the constitution to “restore the rule of law, coexistence and the economic recovery and to ensure that elections could be held in normal circumstances.”  Direct rule will reportedly be in place next weekend.

The Guardian reports:

Spain was plunged deep into political crisis on Saturday after the prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, announced that he is stripping Catalonia of its autonomy and imposing direct rule from Madrid in a bid to crush the regional leadership’s move to secede.

The decision, which prompted fear and anger across Catalonia, has dramatically escalated Spain’s deepest constitutional crisis since the restoration of democracy in 1977. Observers say the move could raise the spectre of Basque nationalism, and have repercussions across a Europe that is facing the rise of nationalist and separatist movements.

Following an emergency cabinet meeting Saturday morning, Rajoy said he was invoking Article 155 of the constitution to “restore the rule of law, coexistence and the economic recovery and to ensure that elections could be held in normal circumstances”.

Pending almost certain approval in the senate on Friday, direct rule will be imposed as of next weekend. Citing the Catalan government’s “conscious and systematic rebellion and disobedience”, Rajoy said Carles Puigdemont’s government would be stripped of its powers and its functions would be assumed by the relevant ministries in Madrid.

The Speaker of the Catalan government has responded by calling the move a “coup” and “an attack against democracy.”

Reuters reports:

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s decision to fire Catalonia’s government and force a new election is a “coup” and an “attack against democracy”, the speaker of the Catalan parliament said on Saturday.

“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.

“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 defense of the sovereignty of the parliament of Catalonia,” she said.

The New York Times has more details about the proposed changes and the plan to lift Article 155 measures as soon as possible.

. . . . Mr. Rajoy said he planned to remove Mr. Puigdemont, and the rest of his separatist administration from office. The central government was also poised to take charge of Catalonia’s autonomous police force and the Catalan center for telecommunications.

Mr. Rajoy did not ask to dissolve the Catalan Parliament, but instead said that the president of the assembly would not be allowed to take any initiative judged to be contrary to Spain’s Constitution for a period of 30 days, including trying to propose another leader to replace Mr. Puigdemont.

Mr. Rajoy said that his goal was to arrange new Catalan elections within six months, so as to lift the measures taken under Article 155 as soon as possible.

It’s unclear, however, how such elections would be organized or whether they would significantly change Catalonia’s political landscape, let alone help to resolve the territorial conflict.

This is an unprecedented move by the Spanish government and has escalated the crisis over Catalan independence.

The New York Times continues:

It was the first time that Spain’s government had moved to strip the autonomy of one of its 17 regions, and the first time that a leader had invoked Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution — a broad tool intended to protect the “general interests” of the nation.

The unexpectedly forceful moves by Mr. Rajoy, made after an emergency cabinet meeting, thrust Spain into uncharted waters. The prime minister is trying to put down one of the gravest constitutional crises his country has faced since embracing democracy after the death of its dictator Gen. Francisco Franco in 1975.

. . . .  Several Catalan separatist politicians, however, reacted immediately to Mr. Rajoy’s announcement, warning that it would escalate rather than resolve the conflict.

Josep Lluís Cleries, a Catalan Senator, told reporters on Saturday that Mr. Rajoy was suspending not autonomy in Catalonia but democracy.

Carme Forcadell, the separatist president of the Catalan Parliament, pledged on Saturday evening to defend “the sovereignty” of her assembly. “We will not take a step back,” she told a news conference. “Mr. Rajoy isn’t conscious that by attacking the institutions, he is attacking the society of this country.”