Spanish government warns Catalonia it will send in national police to quell highway protests

The Spanish government has warned Catalonia’s pro-independence authorities that it will take over security by deploying national police to the region if steps are not taken to guarantee law and order amid a series of disruptive protests.

Ministers from Pedro Sánchez’s government have demanded explanations over the Catalan regional police’s passivity as protesters blocked a section of the main Mediterranean motorway for 15 hours on Saturday and others sabotaged toll barriers.

The threat to impose security on Catalonia falls short of a suspension of the region’s authority, as was adopted by former conservative government of Mariano Rajoy a year ago. But a spokeswoman for Mr Sánchez’s Socialist party has said the government “will not hesitate to take difficult decisions”.   

On the same day as members of Catalonia’s self-styled Republican Defence Committees led the motorway protests, Catalan President Quim Torra drew widespread criticism for suggesting that Catalonia could follow the example of Slovenia, which split from Yugoslavia in 1991 after a brief conflict.

“We Catalans have lost our fear. They don’t frighten us. There is no turning back on the road to freedom. The Slovenians decided to go ahead despite the consequences. Let’s do what they did and be prepared for anything in order to live freely”. Mr Torra said at an event in Brussels alongside the self-exiled former president of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont.  

Mr Torra’s words led to redoubled calls from the conservative Popular Party and centre-right Ciudadanos for Spain’s government to trigger Article 155, under which Catalonia’s autonomy would be suspended.

The far-Right Vox, which stunned political observers by winning 11 per cent of the vote in Andalusian regional elections earlier this month, filed a complaint with Spain’s supreme court asking that Mr Torra be arrested and charged with inciting a rebellion.

Also on Tuesday, the supreme court said it would hold a pre-trial session next Tuesday to consider procedural appeals by defence lawyers for 18 Catalan officials, who are charged with offences including sedition and rebellion over last year’s unlawful referendum and declaration of independence. The lawyers argue that the court is not authorised to try the accused, who, if their appeal fails, will go on trial early in 2019.