An estimated 300,000 people attended the pro-unity demonstration in Barcelona © AFP
The Spanish government faced little resistance on Monday as it moved to cement control over Catalonia, after Madrid sacked the breakaway region’s ministers and set about running its institutions from Madrid.
Ousted regional leader Carles Puigdemont and the majority of his cabinet did not try to defy the exceptional measures imposed by Madrid by entering the Catalan government offices in Barcelona, although Mr Puigdemont did post an undated picture on his Instagram account from inside the regional government headquarters.
Spanish prosecutors are on Monday expected to start the process of pressing charges against Mr Puigdemont and members of his ousted government after the regional parliament on Friday voted to declare independence from Spain.
Also on Monday leaders of the main separatist parties held meetings to decide their response to elections called by Madrid on December 21, with signs they are leaning towards fielding candidates. Spanish ministers have said Mr Puigdemont could run if he was “not in jail”.
Madrid’s Ibex 35 index up 1.2 per cent, led by its Catalan-based banks, as investors reacted positively to the latest developments.
CaixaBank was up nearly 5 per cent and Banco Sabadell was 1.6 per cent higher. The yield on Spain’s benchmark 10-year government bonds also fell — down 7.4 basis points to 1.508 per cent — as investors bought the debt. That takes the yield back down to levels last seen in August.
Over the weekend Josep Lluís Trapero, who was removed as Catalan police chief, urged the regional force to comply with orders from Madrid. The new head of the police force was in Madrid on Monday to get new orders from the Spanish interior ministry.
Despite the sense of calm, Madrid cannot rest easy as it seeks to find a response to one of the biggest threats to Spain since it returned to democracy in the late 1970s.
It is still unclear how Catalonia’s estimated 200,000 public workers will react to the dismissals, and whether any will stay away from work in protest. Mr Puigdemont and other may also try and go back to work.
One sacked Catalan minister, Josep Rull i Andreu, did turn up to work as normal on Monday morning. “At my desk, carrying out the duties that I was tasked with by the people of Catalonia,” he tweeted before leaving his office 45 minutes later.
Madrid is reportedly giving dismissed officials “a few hours” to collect their belongings but they could face legal action if they seek to return to work after being sacked.
Many ministers have said that they do not consider themselves sacked, including Mr Puigdemont. Carme Forcadell, speaker of the dissolved Catalan Parliament, turned up to work saying: “We continue to work.” Cèsar Puig, the former Catalan secretary-general, showed up at the interior ministry, said goodbye to a janitor and walked out again without carrying any personal belongings.
Some political observers believe that Mr Rajoy may have outmanoeuvred the separatists with his imposition of direct rule combined with a call for new elections in just eight weeks’ time.
Mr Puigdemont has called for “peaceful opposition” to direct rule but did not say whether he or others would offer resistance. Two leading Catalan unions issued a joint statement in favour of the elections and against resistance on the street.
On Sunday an estimated 300,000 people took part in an anti-independence demonstration in Barcelona, marching under banners that read “We won’t let Spain to be torn into pieces” and “The awakening of a silenced nation”.
A poll published by Spanish national newspaper El País on Saturday found that 55 per cent of Catalans opposed a declaration of independence by the region, with 41 per cent in favour.