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Suspending Catalan autonomy under article 155

Spain’s Senate is set Friday to approve a series of measures to take over Catalonia’s regional powers, as the central government takes drastic action to halt moves towards independence.

The measures have been drafted by Madrid under the never-before-used Article 155 of the constitution, devised to rein in rebel regions.

They call for Catalonia’s separatist executive to be dismissed, and for the central government to take control of the semi-autonomous region’s police, administration and parliament.

– How did we get here? –

Catalonia’s separatist regional government held a referendum on independence on October 1 despite Spain’s Constitutional Court ruling it illegal.

It said that 90 percent of people who voted backed independence, but turnout was only 43 percent.

After Catalonia’s regional president Carles Puigdemont defied various warnings and deadlines from Madrid, the national government said last week it would push ahead with Article 155.

– What does the constitution say? –

Under its constitution adopted in 1978, Spain is one of the Western world’s most decentralised nations.

Its 17 regions have varying degrees of control over issues such as education and healthcare. Catalonia is among those with the most autonomy.

Article 155 says that if a region’s government breaches its constitutional obligations or “acts in a way that seriously threatens the general interest of Spain”, Madrid can “take necessary measures to oblige it forcibly to comply or to protect said general interest”.

– What else could Rajoy do? –

While it may be divided on independence, Catalonia treasures its autonomy highly, and article 155 will not go down well with many in the region.

Independence supporters are determined to resist the measures in peaceful protests.

But Article 155 is just one of several tools Rajoy has available in seeking to head off Catalonia’s separatists.

The government could also declare a state of emergency with limits on freedom of movement and assembly, according to Jose Carlos Cano Montejano, a law expert at Madrid’s Complutense University.

Other legislation signed in 2015 could allow Madrid to declare a national security crisis and claim powers such as passing laws by decree.

– Not the first time –

On October 6, 1934, Catalan president Lluis Companys declared a “Catalan state within the framework of a Spanish federal republic” — which at the time did not exist.

Just 10 hours later, he surrendered to authorities and was jailed.

Madrid suspended a special statute approved several years earlier that gave Catalonia special autonomy.

That suspension, which saw people designated by the central government step in to run Catalonia, lasted until 1936 after the left-wing Popular Front coalition won elections in Spain.

Companys then resumed his post as regional president before fleeing to France after the 1936-39 civil war.

He was arrested in 1940 by German forces and turned over to the dictatorship of Spanish General Francisco Franco.

Companys was executed by firing squad on October 15, 1940, becoming a hero for Catalan separatists.