BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Spanish authorities are leaving separatists in Catalonia with "no other option" but to push ahead with declaring independence for the wealthy northeastern region, its vice president said Wednesday.
Spain has announced plans to fire Catalonia's government and directly manage its affairs after it held an independence vote that was declared illegal by the country's constitutional court. Residents of Catalonia, including many who don't back independence, have been aghast at what they feel is Spain's heavy-handed response.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Vice President Oriol Junqueras said his party —one of two in the separatist coalition now governing Catalonia — rejected calling an early regional election as a way out of the political deadlock because it believes that Catalans already have chosen independence.
Spain's Constitutional Court has ruled against the Oct. 1 referendum Catalonia's government held and central authorities in Madrid say the vote's results are invalid. The vast majority of those who voted backed independence but the vote had numerous problems, including police violence to stop it.
Junqueras said his party would "work toward building a republic, because we understand that there is a democratic mandate to establish such a republic."
He said he was speaking only on behalf of his Republican Left party and not for the regional government. Catalan President Carles Puigdemont is to address regional lawmakers in parliament Thursday evening.
Junqueras spoke with the AP amid frantic jockeying among Catalonia's political elite on how to respond to plans by Spanish authorities to fire them and take over managing the region until a new election is held.
"The Spanish government is giving us no other option than to defend the civil rights and citizens' rights through the best tools that our institutions have," Junqueras said.
Puigdemont has not signaled what he intends to do, but called a late Wednesday meeting of his cabinet. Local media speculated he could call an early regional election to avoid the unprecedented takeover.
But Junqueras ruled an election out, saying it would be wrong and illogical "to renounce the democratic mandate that we have from citizens."
In Madrid, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said his government's plans to take control of Catalonia's key affairs and halt the region's push for independence were "exceptional" measures that he hoped would not be needed for long.
The conservative prime minister told Parliament that invoking constitutional authority over Catalonia was the "only possible" way to bring the region back in line with Spanish law, which he said the separatist Catalan government has violated repeatedly.
Rajoy said he hopes the measures will be brief but they will only be lifted once order is restored in Catalonia.
"The government's response is the only one possible, given the stance of the Catalan institutions," Rajoy said. "I am fulfilling my duty and I am doing it in the face of a rejection of our laws, of our Constitution and of the millions of Catalan citizens who can see that their (regional) government has flouted the law."
Rajoy said the aim of Article 155 of the Spanish constitution is not to suspend Catalonia's self-government but "to restore legality, boost the social co-existence that has been broken in Catalonia and tackle the economic consequences that its decisions are provoking."
Spain's Senate is expected to approve the Catalan takeover measures on Friday. Puigdemont could address the Senate to argue with them, but has chosen to stay in Barcelona instead.
The Spanish government spokesman, minister Inigo Mendez de Vigo, said the decision was not surprising and showed that Puigdemont is not interested in establishing a dialogue.
Puigdemont instead plans to attend a session of the Catalan parliament in Barcelona, the region's capital, beginning Thursday and ending Friday, officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity in keeping with internal party regulations.
Credit ratings agency DBRS warned Wednesday that the uncertainty is hurting Catalonia's economy and could become a drag on Spain's economy, "discouraging investment and tourism in the region."
With Catalonia representing about one-fifth of Spain's annual gross domestic product, any slowdown in the region would affect the national economy.
Junqueras, who is also in charge of Catalonia's economy, was confident about it and blamed the recent exodus of businesses on pressures from Spain's central authorities.
"There is no democracy that receives the attacks that we are receiving," he said. "It is such an abnormal situation, with such great aggressiveness that is creating an unusual scenario in Europe."
The Spanish government has revised downwards its growth forecast for 2018 to 2.3 percent from 2.6 percent, largely because of doubts over Catalonia's future. DBRS says the economic effects on Spain's economy will be "manageable" unless the Catalan crisis becomes protracted.
Ciaran Giles in Madrid and Elena Becatoros in Barcelona contributed.