BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — The Spanish government's plans to take control of Catalonia's key affairs and halt the region's push for independence are "exceptional," Spain's prime minister said Wednesday, adding that he hoped the unprecedented step would not be needed for long.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy told Parliament that invoking constitutional authority over Catalonia was the "only possible" way to bring the region back in line with Spanish law, which he said the separatist Catalan government has violated repeatedly.
Rajoy said he hopes the measures planned, which includes removing Catalan government officials and curtailing the regional parliament's powers, will be brief. They should end with a regional election he hopes to call soon, but only will be lifted once order is restored in Catalonia, the prime minister.
Spain's Senate, in Madrid, is expected to approve the measures on Friday. Catalan President Carles Puigdemont could address the Senate to argue against them, but has chosen to stay in Barcelona, officials from several regional parties said Wednesday.
Puigdemont instead plans to attend a session of the Catalan parliament in Barcelona, the region's capital, beginning Thursday and ending Friday, the officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity in keeping with internal party regulations.
Rajoy has asked the Senate to invoke a section of the Spain Constitution, Article 155, that allows the central government to step in when a region is found to be acting illegally. The action has never been taken before.
He argues it is needed now to stop the Catalan government from acting on the results of an outlawed Oct. 1 referendum that Puigdemont said gave him the mandate to declare independence.
"The government's response is the only one possible, given the stance of the Catalan institutions," Rajoy said. "I am fulfilling my duty and I am doing it in the face of a rejection of our laws, of our Constitution and of the millions of Catalan citizens who can see that their (regional) government has flouted the law."
Rajoy said the aim of Article 155 is not to suspend Catalonia's self-government but "to restore legality, boost the social co-existence that has been broken in Catalonia and tackle the economic consequences that its decisions are provoking."
The uncertainty over Catalonia's future could have an economic impact. Credit ratings agency DBRS warned on Wednesday that the situation is hurting the region's economy and could become a drag on Spain's economy.
The political turmoil brought by Catalonia's standoff with the national government "is discouraging investment and tourism in the region," DBRS said in a statement.
With Catalonia representing about one-fifth of Spain's annual gross domestic product, any slowdown in the region would affect the national economy.
The Spanish government has revised downwards its growth forecast for 2018 to 2.3 percent from 2.6 percent, largely because of doubts over Catalonia's future.
DBRS says the effects on the national economy will be "manageable," however, unless the crisis becomes protracted.
Ciaran Giles in Madrid contributed.