MADRID (AP) — Barcelona's new leftist mayor was sharply criticized Friday for removing a bronze bust of former King Juan Carlos from the town hall's main chamber.
The highly political gesture reflects increasing differences between Spain's national government in Madrid and the powerful region of Catalonia, whose capital is Barcelona and whose government seeks independence.
Mayor Ada Colau removed the bust Thursday, saying the law stipulates there should be an image of the head of state in the chamber and Juan Carlos no longer holds that position.
Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria countered Friday that if Barcelona needed an image of new King Felipe VI — Juan Carlos' son— the government will gladly provide one.
Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia Margallo described the removal as "mean-spirited" while the opposition Socialist party spokesman Antonio Hernando said it showed a lack of respect and bad manners. Opposition town hall members urged Colau to respect the law, while one supporter thanked her for cleaning the chamber.
Members of Spain's ruling conservative Popular Party held a photograph of Felipe where the bust had been in a brief protest Friday in the town hall.
Colau, who has previously expressed support for independence from Spain, said she'll seek town-hall consensus on a solution. Formerly the head of Spain's active anti-eviction movement, she took office last month promising many changes.
The incident comes as relations between the central government and Catalonia grow increasingly testy because of plans by the region's two main parties to turn the Sept. 27 local election into a vote on independence. They promise to unilaterally declare independence if they obtain a majority.
Spain has ruled out any possibility of secession for the region, which accounts for about one-fifth of the county's gross domestic product.