Spain king urges Catalan separatists to show 'respect for the law'
Spanish King Felipe VI warned Catalan leaders on Thursday to obey the law in their drive for autonomy, as tension mounted over the region's bid to break away from Spain.
The head of state added his voice to the warnings after Spain's conservative prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, sharpened his tone against Catalan nationalists.
"Public authorities are subject to the rule of law, and it is by respecting it that they guarantee the orderly functioning of the state," the king said.
"Respect for the law is the source of legitimacy and an unavoidable requirement for living together democratically in peace and freedom."
He did not refer to Catalonia or independence in his remarks, although they were made in an address in Barcelona that was attended by Catalonia's pro-independence regional president, Artur Mas.
Within hours of his remarks, Barcelona's new leftist mayor Ada Colau removed a bust of the monarch's father, king Juan Carlos, from city hall, describing it as an "anomaly" given his June 2014 abdication.
Several other symbols of the monarchy could also be removed from public spaces in Barcelona, a city with "a long republican tradition," Colau's deputy Gerardo Pisarello told reporters.
The two main parties in the rich northeastern region of Spain -- Mas' centre-right CDC party and the left-wing ERC -- have formed a pro-independence alliance ahead of regional elections in September.
Rajoy, meanwhile, is battling for re-election in national polls expected two months later.
Catalonia's independence bid is the most delicate political issue he faces as he tries to cement Spain's recovery from a property market collapse in 2008.
His government fiercely opposes independence for Catalonia, which wants to follow Scotland's example by putting the matter to a vote.
On Monday, the leader of the Catalan pro-independence electoral list, Raul Romeva, said the separatists were ready to declare unilateral independence if Madrid tried to block its efforts.
Rajoy reacted sternly to that, saying it would be "a head-on attack on the law".
"The government will not allow it and is prepared for any problem that anyone might cause in the future," he said on Tuesday.
Since his June 2014 accession the throne, a symbol of the unity of Spain and its diverse regions, Felipe has issued discreet calls for unity over Catalonia.
Tensions peaked last November when Mas defied Rajoy by holding a symbolic vote on independence.
© 2015 AFP