20/10/2017 17:59 BST

Catalonia Independence Row Sees Spanish Government Move Closer To Imposing Direct Rule

There are fears the step could spark more protests.

The Spanish government is one step closer to imposing direct rule in Catalan after winning the support of the socialist opposition party for plans to dissolve the region’s parliament and hold new elections.  

The Socialists, the main opposition, said on Friday they would back special measures to impose central rule on the secessionist-minded Catalan government, Reuters reported. 

It is hoped the move will end a crisis that has unsettled the euro and hurt confidence in the euro zone’s fourth-largest economy, the party said. 

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has called an emergency cabinet meeting on Saturday to pave the way for Madrid establishing central control in the region.

EMMANUEL DUNAND via Getty Images
Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy has called an emergency cabinet meeting for tomorrow 

The government on Friday would not confirm whether January elections formed a part of the package, with Rajoy saying only that the measures would be announced on Saturday.

But a government spokesman said that regional elections were likely.

“The logical end to this process would be new elections established within the law,” Inigo Mendez de Vigo said at a weekly press conference.

It will be the first time in Spain’s four decades of democracy that Madrid has invoked the constitution to effectively sack a regional government and call new elections.

Rajoy wants as broad a consensus as possible before taking the step, which has raised the prospect of more large-scale protests in Catalonia. 

In recent weeks, pro-independence groups have been able to bring more than one million people out onto the streets.

Yves Herman / Reuters
Catalan President Carles Puigdemont has refused to denounce independence 

Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont, a former journalist who is spearheading the secession campaign, has refused to renounce independence, citing an overwhelming vote in favour of secession at a referendum on October 1. 

Catalan authorities said around 90% voted for independence in the referendum though only 43% of voters participated. Opponents of secession mostly stayed home.

Spanish courts have ruled the referendum unconstitutional, but Puigdemont says the result is binding and must be obeyed.

The prolonged standoff has caused hundreds of companies to move their headquarters outside Catalonia and prompted the Spanish government to cut its economic growth forecast.

The region accounts for a fifth of Spain’s economy.