Spanish government approves plan to take back powers from Catalonia

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy says invoking Article 155 of the constitution "was not our wish"

Spanish government approves plan to take back powers from Catalonia

Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy arrives for a special Cabinet meeting at the Moncloa Palace in Madrid. Picture by: Juan Carlos Hidalgo/AP/Press Association Images

Updated 14.20

Spain's Prime Minister says he has approved implementing Article 155 - allowing the Madrid government to take back some powers from Catalonia.

Mariano Rajoy announced the unprecedented measures after a crisis meeting of his cabinet ministers following a disputed independence referendum in Catalonia.

Mr Rajoy said he wants permission to remove Catalan leaders in Barcelona and to call early elections - but the region's parliament would not be dissolved.

He said the powers of the Catalan administration will be transferred to the Spanish government.

He stressed that he did not want to use the powers to rule Catalonia directly, but had been forced to take action.

He suggested: "It was not our wish, not our intention... it never was - and I think [the public] knows that."

However, he added that no government can accept 'disregard for the law'.

He added that he was concerned about the financial impact if Catalonia broke away, stressing the latest figures on the economy were "worrying".

The plans will now have to be approved by Spain's Senate.

Article 155 allows central authorities to intervene when one of Spain's 17 autonomous regions fails to comply with the law.

Protests were expected in Catalonia in the wake of today's announcement.

Regional leader Carles Puigdemont, who has refused to abandon his threat to declare a breakaway state vote, is set to join a protest and then give his response.

On the streets of Barcelona, people banged pots and pans and drivers beeped their horns.

Catalonia 

There are around 7 million people in Catalonia, which previously saw its powers taken away under Spain's military dictatorship.

Catalonia's government currently runs its own policing, education and healthcare services.

While around 90% of Catalans who voted backed breaking away from Spain in this month's controversial referendum, only four in 10 potential voters cast their ballots

Yesterday, Spain's King Felipe said Catalonia "is and will remain an essential part of 21st century Spain".

In an emotional speech at a prize-giving ceremony, he said the Spanish government would resolve the fight over Catalonia's bid for independence through "legitimate democratic institutions".

"Spain will deal with this unacceptable attempt at secession by using the Constitution," he said.

"We do not want to give up that which we have built together."