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Who Will Blink First — Barcelona or Madrid?

Catalan separatists are devising nonviolent plans to resist the imposition of direct rule by Madrid.

With days to go before the Spanish government secures parliamentary approval to curb Catalonia’s semi-autonomy, separatist leaders are promising to disrupt Madrid’s efforts to shutter their regional government, which could start by the end of the week.

Separatists stand firm

They have pledged to meet any deployment of the national police with what the leaders say will be “walls of people.” And they say that new bosses sent in by Madrid to oversee Catalonia’s own regional police, the Mossos d’Esquadra, and Catalonia’s public broadcaster, as well as the regional tax authority, will face obstructionism and disobedience.

Spain’s conservative prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, and the country’s three main national parties are adamant that the unruly northeastern region won’t be allowed to secede. They maintain Catalans broke the law when they held an independence vote on October 1, which was deemed illegal by Spain’s Constitutional Court.

Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy
Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy gestures as he delivers a statement at the Moncloa Palace in Madrid. VOA

Government strategy

According to Spanish officials, Madrid’s current plan is to remove from their offices only the top echelon of Catalonia’s government, including regional president Carles Puigdemont and his deputy Oriol Junqueras but will leave in place other Catalan ministers, government officials and the executives of public companies so that they can continue to oversee day-to-day administration.

“We are going to ask them to be professional and to continue to provide services for their citizens,” a Spanish official told VOA. The strategy is to be as light-touch as possible and for the intervention to be as brief as possible with quick early regional elections.

Direct rule

On Saturday, the Spanish prime minister announced plans to impose direct rule on the troublesome Catalonia — marking the first time since 1933 that an elected Spanish government has stripped Catalonia of its semi-autonomy.

The separatists’ answer came Sunday when an estimated 450,000 took to the streets of Barcelona to protest on a warm sunny evening the proposed direct-rule measures and to demand the release of two prominent independence leaders, who have been jailed on charges of sedition.

“If the repressive drift does not end, the time will come when we will be freer in prisons than in the streets,” he says. He argues Catalan separatists will endure any crackdown by Madrid and come through “more convinced of their cause and stronger.”

Separatist propaganda on a winning streak

As the dangerous game of political chicken nears a denouement there are many here in the Catalan capital who feel impotent and puzzled why the conservative national government of Mariano Rajoy keeps on gifting — as far as they are concerned — the Catalan separatists propaganda wins.

In Barcelona’s warren-like medieval Barri Gotic or Gothic Quarter, an area filled with trendy bars, clubs and Catalan restaurants as well as tourists, VOA found more people ambivalent about independence than for it. But all were alarmed about how the confrontation might play out, and critical of the central government’s strong-armed tactics-like its attempt to stop the October 1 referendum, which left about 800 people injured.

Many are ambivalent

Less than half of the region’s 7.5 million Catalans turned out to vote in the referendum earlier this month, although 9 out of 10 who did, backed independence. But separatists think the political trajectory is favoring their cause.

But an opinion poll Sunday for El Periodico, a Barcelona newspaper, found only 36 percent of respondents backed independence, a 10 percent drop on previous polling.(VOA)

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