Separatists Pledge to Fight On After Spain Moves to Oust Catalan Leaders
Catalan separatists have vowed to to create a human shield and prevent arrest of their leader Carles Puigdemont

The Spanish government has urged Catalonians to accept direct control from Madrid and ignore instructions from the restive region’s secessionist leadership once it has been removed from power. Sunday’s message came a day after Madrid resolved to take the unprecedented constitutional step of firing the Catalonia government, a last resort to thwart its independence campaign and calm fears of unrest and economic turmoil in the heart of the euro zone.

The decision, to be implemented this week, brought tens of thousands of pro-independence protesters onto the streets of Barcelona on Saturday and was rejected by Catalan President Carles Puigdemont. The regional parliament’s speaker, Carme Forcadell, said she would not accept Madrid’s move and accused Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of staging a “coup”.

Spanish Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis responded on Sunday with the call to obey Madrid.

“All the government is trying to do, and reluctantly, is to reinstate the legal order, to restore the constitution but also the Catalan rules and proceed from there,” Dastis told BBC TV.

“We are going to establish the authorities who are going to rule the day-to-day affairs of Catalonia according to the Catalan laws and norms ... I hope everyone will disregard whatever instructions they will be planning to give because they will not have the legal authority to do that.”

However, Dastis sought to calm nerves in the region, saying Madrid would not conduct arrests among the pro-independence leadership, though two prominent secessionists were detained on court order this month on allegations of sedition.

“We are not going to arrest anyone,” he said

Catalonia’s leaders say they will not accept direct rule imposed by Madrid, raising the prospect that they and their supporters will seek to defy the Spanish government when the time comes to remove them from office.

Rajoy’s plan still needs Senate approval in a session set for Friday. Once it gains the expected approval Madrid can take full control of Catalonia’s finances, police and public media and curb the powers of the regional parliament for up to six months, until fresh regional elections.

Street protests for and against independence in Catalonia have involved hundreds of thousands of people. Though a violent crackdown by national police during Catalonia’s Oct. 1 independence referendum left hundreds injured, the protests have remained peaceful so far.

But Rajoy’s unprecedented plan to use special constitutional powers has angered both sides and raised concern over the potential for unrest if Catalan leaders resist and call for civil disobedience.

They have not done that, but investors are worried about the possible fallout from such moves by a region that makes up a fifth of Spain’s economy.