King of Spain accuses Catalan leaders of ‘bending law’

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Spain’s King Felipe VI yesterday said that Catalan authorities had deliberately bent the law with “irresponsible conduct” and that the Spanish state needed to ensure constitutional order and the rule of law in Catalonia.

Delivering an address to the nation by television, the king said that the bid by authorities in the northeastern region to push ahead with independence had “undermined coexistence” in Catalonia.

Catalan leaders have been accused of 'bending the rules' by the king of Spain. Picture: AFP/Getty Images

Catalan leaders have been accused of 'bending the rules' by the king of Spain. Picture: AFP/Getty Images

“Today, Catalan society is fractured and confronted,” King Felipe said, referring to the political crisis as “very serious moments for our democratic life”.

He said that the state needed to ensure Spain’s constitutional order and the correct functioning of Catalan institutions and rule of law.

Spain’s conservative government has said it will respond with “all necessary measures” to counter the Catalan defiance, and is holding talks with national opposition leaders to find multi-partisan consensus on the response, which could include suspending the region’s self-government.

READ MORE: Catalan referendum: Pro-independence side declare landslide

The king delivered his speech after tens of thousands of people across Catalonia joined marches and a general strike in an outcry against police violence which has united political views that only one week ago seemed irreconcilable.

There was little public transport across the region, Barcelona’s port was at a standstill and top tourist attractions, including the Sagrada Familia church, were closed. Many small businesses shut for the day, while schools, universities and medical services were also shut or operating at a minimum level.

Separatist groups and unions had initially called for strikes to be held yesterday in support of Catalan leaders pushing ahead with a declaration of independence from Spain.

But many non-separatists were also drawn to the streets. The main national unions, CCOO and UGT, rejected the strike but told workers to join protests.

In Barcelona’s Catalonia and University squares, a sea of demonstrators waved flags, most of them “esteladas” embraced by those seeking secession.

Among many banners displayed, one read: “Stop violence, #CataloniaIsComing.” Another asked: “Where are you Europe?”

One of the biggest groups concentrated around the Spanish national police headquarters in Barcelona, where protesters called them “occupying forces” and called for Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to resign.

READ MORE: Catalan referendum: EU urged to ‘stop looking other way

Earlier, anti-capitalist groups were forcing workers to join a mass labour stoppage in Barcelona.

While thousands of peaceful protesters demonstrated against the confiscation of ballot boxes and charges on unarmed civilians, hundreds of anti-capitalist activists drifted to the city centre and intimidated workers, shoppers and tourists in order to enforce the closedown of department stores, local shops, markets and restaurants.

Dispersed in groups of 50 to 100, they chanted aggressively at waitresses, pulled down shutters, and threatened workers and owners.

“I was told it would be a 24-hour stoppage for public workers, so we decided to open part-time to show our support,” said 68-year-old restaurateur, Carmen Gomez. “But we are closing down for good now. They said it was for our own safety.” Spain’s interior minister accused the pro-independence Catalan government of encouraging protests against Spanish police posted to towns in the region, saying they represent “totalitarianism” and “hatred”. Juan Ignacio Zoido said that Catalan regional president Carles Puigdemont was responsible for the protests after demanding police leave the region following their violent crackdown on his attempt to hold the referendum.