Spanish PM visits Catalonia for first time since imposing direct rule

It comes a day after an estimated 750,000 people took to the streets calling for the release of detained Catalan politicians

Spanish PM visits Catalonia for first time since imposing direct rule

Image: Mariano Rajoy via Twitter

The Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is visiting Catalonia for the first time since imposing direct rule on the region.

Mr Rajoy has called Catalan elections for December 21st in the wake of last month's disputed declaration of independence by the now dismissed Catalan parliament.

Speaking to supporters of the Catalan branch of his People's Party, Mr Rajoy said his government had restored "legal and democratic order" by taking the unprecedented decision to take control of the autonomous region.

He said: "The Government of Spain will continue to defend the rule of law, the Constitution, the statute of autonomy and the rights of all Spanish people."

He called on a "silent majority" to vote in support of unity.

Mr Rajoy's trip comes less than 24 hours after hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets of Barcelona, calling for the release of detained Catalan politicians.

Police said an estimated 750,000 people took part in yesterday's demonstration.

Eight Catalan ministers, who appeared in court in Madrid last week, have been denied bail and jailed pending their trial.

The region's ousted president Carles Puigdemont, meanwhile, remains in Brussels - and has accused Spanish officials of 'damaging democracy'.

Speaking to Sky News earlier this week, Mr Puigdemont argued: "I am not a rebel. I don't have the spirit of a rebel nor the wish to be one. I consider myself to be very disciplined. I just want to carry out what my parliament has approved.

"To be treated like a criminal, like a drug trafficker, a paedophile, like a serial killer, I think this is abuse... this isn't politics, this is using the courts to do politics."

This week, Mr Puigdemont was called before a Belgian judge at the weekend to answer an arrest warrant issue by Spain, where he faces potential charges of rebellion and sedition.