MADRID (Reuters) - Spain acted to maintain direct rule on Catalonia on Monday after the government objected to the choice of councillors by fervent separatist leader Quim Torra who has vowed to recreate the administration fired by Madrid for declaring independence.
Madrid and Barcelona are engaged in a stand-off after regional elections called by the government in December returned a majority of seats for pro-independence parties. Madrid has imposed direct rule until a new regional government is in place.
It is uncertain now when direct rule will be lifted. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said on Monday he hoped Catalonia would soon form a viable government that would obey the law.
“I hope there will soon be a government that is viable, that obeys the law and that enters into dialogue with us - one that will work to recover institutional and political normality in our country,” he said in a speech at an event in Galicia.
The Spanish government on Monday recognised the powers of newly-elected leader Torra but refused to ratify his choice of councillors - four of whom are facing charges linked to last year’s independence drive, official documents showed.
Two of the four men are being held in custody in a Madrid jail awaiting trial while the other two are in self-imposed exile in Belgium.
Under the terms of emergency legislation brought in to take over the Catalan administration, Madrid must lift direct rule once the Catalan government is fully formed and cabinet members named.
But the government said the naming of the four men, accused of crimes including rebellion and mis-use of public funds, amounted to a deliberate provocation.
Spanish courts ruled that an Oct. 1 independence referendum and subsequent declaration of independence were illegal because they went against Spain’s constitution which states the nation is indivisible.
PM Rajoy telephoned two opposition leaders - Pedro Sanchez of the Socialists and Albert Rivera of Ciudadanos (“Citizens”) - on Saturday to discuss the situation and ask for their support.
Both parties, which together with Rajoy’s centre-right People’s Party (PP) make up a majority of seats in Spain’s parliament, agree that direct rule of Catalonia must be maintained until a regional administration is in place.
“We, all those parties which support the constitution, must accept reality and apply the constitution together,” Rivera said in a television interview on Monday.
“Peace and stability are needed in Catalonia for its economy and for social harmony.”
Reporting by Sonya Dowsett; Editing by Richard Balmforth