Barcelona - The Spanish government moved decisively on Saturday to use a previously untapped constitutional power so it can take control of Catalonia and derail the independence movement led by separatist politicians in the prosperous industrial region.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said after a special Cabinet session that he wants the Senate to allow central ministers to take over functions from all the regional Cabinet members and give him the power to call regional elections - something that only Catalonia's top leader can do now.
Rajoy said he is using Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution in order to "restore normalcy" in the country, which faces its most grave institutional crisis in decades with Catalonia's independence movement. He said a new regional election in Catalonia should be held in the next six months.
"There is no country in the world ready to allow this kind of situation within its borders," Rajoy said on Saturday. "It is my wish to call elections as soon as normality is restored".
Rajoy's party enjoys a majority in the Senate and he has the backing of the main opposition parties in the move to quash independence for Catalonia and maintain Spain's territorial integrity.
Article 155 gives central authorities to intervene when one of Spain's 17 autonomous regions fails to comply with the law. It's never been applied since the 1978 Constitution was adopted, but Rajoy's conservative government says establishing direct control over Catalonia was a move of last resort.
The move is expected to spark angry opposition from both independence supporters and moderate Catalans, who will see it as an attack on their autonomy.
Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont, who is to deliver a televised address later on Saturday, has threatened to call a vote in the regional parliament for an explicit declaration of independence from Spain.
Catalan grassroots organisations who have been key drivers in the secession bid called the measures "authoritarian" and urged the immediate proclamation of a new Catalan republic.