BARCELONA: Catalonia’s deposed president has called on Catalans to peacefully oppose Spain’s takeover of the semi-autonomous region.
In a speech on Saturday from his home city of Girona, Carles Puigdemont said he would continue to work on what he called “a free country”.
“The best way to defend what we have conquered so far is to have a democratic opposition to Article 155,” he said, referring to a law that allows the government in Madrid to impose direct rule on the region.
Puidgemont’s address came a day after Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy sacked Catalonia’s regional government, including Puidgemont, dissolved its regional parliament, and set a snap election for December.
The unprecedented measures were taken in response to the Catalan parliament voting in favour of splitting from Madrid and establishing an independent republic.
Leaders from Europe and elsewhere have largely rallied behind Spain’s central government.
In a televised statement, flanked by a Catalan and the EU flag, Puidgemont accused Madrid of “premeditated aggression” and said Catalonia will persevere “without violence, without insults, in an inclusive way”.
Only the regional parliament can elect or dismiss the regional government, he said.
Thousands rallied in Madrid calling for Spanish unity as Puidgemont spoke.
The crisis began when Catalans voted to secede from Spain in an October 1 referendum that was declared illegal by Spanish authorities, marking a major development in the country’s worst political crisis in decade.
Al Jazeera’s Andrew Simmons, reporting from Barcelona, said it was evident from Puidgemont’s address that he and his cabinet intended to stay in office.
The Catalan public, who are divided on the secession, “is confused and not quite sure what will happen next,” Simmons said.
Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria, who has been put in charge of Catalonia, has announced that she would appoint a “series of delegates” to administer the region until elections take place, he said.
“As for the interior ministry, appointments are being made and sackings are taking place, particularly in the police force,” he said, noting Josep Lluis Trapero, the head of the Mossos d’Esquadra, has been dismissed from his position.
“The police force, a 17,000 strong body, are now all under orders to be professionally neutral and could be ordered to intervene in unrest,” Simmons said.
“Expect to see the roll out of many peaceful demonstrations, many have been planned for Sunday across the country, by the separatists and unionists and expect to see more moves taking power of this region by Madrid.”
Rajoy, the Spanish prime minister, said Catalonia’s declaration of independence was unlawful.
The Spanish Constitutional Court is reviewing the regional parliament’s decision and the prosecutor’s office said it will file rebellion charges against Puidgemont, an offence that under Spanish law carries up to 30 years in prison. __Al Jazeera