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Catalan parliament to respond to Spain's planned takeover

President of the Catalan parliament Carme Forcadell, center, gathers to discuss with parliament representatives their next move after Spanish government announced plans to remove members of the region's pro-independence government, at the Catalonia Parliament, in Barcelona, Spain, Monday, Oct. 23, 2017. Rajoy has called on Spain's Senate to trigger a section of the constitution that allows the central government to temporarily govern a region if its leaders break the law. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

BARCELONA — Catalonia's regional parliament will hold a debate this week on Spain's plan to take direct control of the northeastern region — a session many fear could become a cover for a vote on declaring independence.

Catalan president Carles Puigdemont has asked parliament to debate and vote on how to respond to the central Spanish government's plan, announced Saturday by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. Parliament's governing body set the debate for Thursday.

Rajoy is seeking to trigger Article 155 of the constitution, which allows the central government to intervene in running Catalonia, after the Catalan regional government claimed a mandate to secede from Spain following a banned Oct. 1 independence referendum.

Puigdemont's Saturday speech was seen as a veiled threat to declare independence. The Spanish government, however, says no dialogue is possible with independence on the table and is maneuvering to fire all Catalan top officials and call an early regional election.

In Madrid, Spain's political parties designated 27 senators to study the government request to apply Article 155. The group includes 15 members of Rajoy's ruling Popular Party, which means it will be approved.

The commission is expected to invite Puigdemont to defend his case, most likely by Thursday, prior to a Senate vote Friday to activate the measures.

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Deputy Spanish Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said Rajoy might name someone to take control of overseeing and coordinating ministries that will be involved in applying the takeover measures.

Speaking on Onda Cero, she said once the Senate gives the green light, the Catalan government will be out office immediately. She said Puigdemont "will no longer be paid, he will not have a presidential signature" and will not be able to make decisions.

She also warned that that the government could take other measures against Catalan government officials should they decide to ignore the measures.

A lawmaker in Puigdemont's PDeCAT party said he was deciding whether to appear or not in the national Senate, adding that an address would be "to defend the Catalan institutions" and in line with his call for dialogue on how to find a path for Catalan independence.

In Barcelona, Lluis Corominas, spokesman for Catalan's governing Together for Yes coalition —which includes PDeCAT— accused Spain of acting "like a dictatorship" and called the use of Article 155 "an act of institutional violence without precedent."

"In this parliament, we won't be able to debate or vote any initiative without Madrid's permission," the lawmaker said. "That is not democracy."

Sergi Sabria, a spokesman for the Republican Left party — said the "best response" to the triggering of Article 155 is announcing "the Catalan Republic."

The far-left separatist CUP party called for "mass civil disobedience," describing Rajoy's move as "the greatest aggression against the civil, individual and collective rights of the Catalan people" since the dictatorship of Gen. Francisco Franco, who died in 1975.

The party said the move would be met by non-violent resistance.

Pro-independence students, meanwhile, called for a strike in Catalan universities on Thursday to urge authorities to push ahead with a declaration of independence and defend the region's institutions.

The Universities for the Republic group has staged several strikes and protests over the past month, as Catalonia's regional government of Catalonia and the Spanish authorities in Madrid clashed over the disputed Oct. 1 independence referendum.

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