BARCELONA, SPAIN - Spanish Prime Minister Mariono Rajoy announced Saturday he would dismiss Catalonia's separatist government and call for new elections in an attempt to prevent the semi-autonomous region from declaring its independence.
Rajoy made the announcement after an emergency Cabinet meeting Saturday to deal with the political crisis caused by the secession effort undertaken by the regional leadership of Catalonia.
Spain's government set plans in motion Thursday to strip Catalonia of its autonomy after the region's leader vowed to continue steps toward independence.
Rajoy's office has said the cabinet meeting was planned to apply Article 155 of Spain's constitution, which gives the government the power to take away some or all of Catalonia's autonomy. Opposition political parties have agreed to support the imposition of central rule over Catalonia. Rajoy is nearly certain to get the required votes next week from Spain's upper legislative body, which is ruled by Rajoy's conservative party.
Carles Puidgemont, Catalonia's leader, has said the regional parliament will go forward with a vote on independence if the Spanish government does not engage in dialogue and follows through on its threat to strip the region of its autonomy.
Rajoy said Saturday Puidgemont's threat to secede "has been unilateral, contrary to the law, and seeking confrontation."
Rajoy had given Puidgemont a Thursday deadline to clarify whether he had in fact already declared independence following a referendum earlier this month.
Puidgemont made a symbolic declaration of independence in an address last week, but said he was suspending any formal steps in favor of talks with the government in Madrid. He delivered his updated stance in a letter Thursday shortly before the deadline.
At a meeting of EU leaders in Brussels this week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the bloc was watching the situation closely.
"We hope that there will be solutions that can be found on the basis of the Spanish constitution," she said.
French President Emmanuel Macron has called for a discussion of the crisis and a show of solidarity with the Spanish government at the EU summit, but a number of leaders and EU officials oppose adding it to the agenda, saying that the tensions are an internal affair.
Voters in Catalonia voted in favor of independence in the October 1 referendum, but fewer than half of those eligible to cast a ballot took part, with opponents boycotting the process. Rajoy's government dismissed the referendum as illegal.