Spain Has Said It Will Impose Direct Rule Over Catalonia

    As the standoff over this month's contentious referendum intensifies, Madrid has said it will continue procedures to suspend the autonomy of the region.

    The Spanish government on Thursday said it intends to proceed with suspending the autonomy of Catalonia and imposing direct rule from Madrid as the standoff over this month's disputed independence referendum intensifies.

    In a statement, the government said ministers would convene an extraordinary meeting on Saturday.

    They will seek to approve measures to impose the procedures contained in article 155 in the Spanish constitution, in order to "restore legality" in the autonomous region, and rule directly from the Spanish capital in an unprecedented move.

    The move comes after Catalonia's President Carles Puigdemont responded to a demand from Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy for clarity of his 'suspended' declaration of independence on Oct. 10, 10 minutes before his deadline for doing so.

    In a letter also issued on Thursday morning, Puigdemont said the Catalan parliament — where pro-independence groups have a majority — would move forward with a vote on a unilateral declaration of independence if Madrid refused to talk and "continued repression". Madrid responded by stating it would invoke article 155.

    Article 155 of Spain's constitution — which consolidated democratic rule in the country in 1978 following the death of its former dictator General Franco in 1975 — allows Madrid's central government to introduce measures to impose direct rule over regions in the event of a crisis. It has never been invoked before.

    Tensions have grown between Madrid and the pro-independence administration of the wealthy north-eastern region since the Oct. 1 referendum, which Madrid declared illegal under the country's constitution. Spain's civil guard intervened and attempted to stop the vote, and was accused of employing heavy-handed policing tactics.

    Puidgemont's Catalan government — the Generalitat — initially said the results of the referendum gave them a mandate to declare independence.

    However, in a highly-anticipated announcement on Oct. 10, Puidgemont pulled away from declaring independence outright and said that the declaration would be "suspended" for a few weeks pending talks with the Madrid government.