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In his first visit to Catalonia since the declaration of independence, Mariano Rajoy has defended the suspension of the Catalan self-government institutions, carried out under article 155 of the constitution. “We have restored the legal and democratic order”, assured the Spanish prime minister this Sunday, boasting of having called the Catalan autonomous elections for 21st December. He was speaking in Barcelona, at the event to announce Xavier García Albiol as the PP (Popular Party) candidate for the presidency of Catalonia. "I did it because the Catalan government decided to break the law to destroy democracy, scorning the public interest and trampling on the rights of everyone”.

According to Rajoy, this is what any country “in our region” would have done after having exhausted “all means”. He asked what countries like Germany or France would do “if a region called an illegal independence referendum or suggested that the constitution was not valid there”. For this reason, he said, European governments had given him their support. He considered that his government's actions were the response to a “spiralling attack on our social harmony” by the Catalan administration of Carles Puigdemont.

Returning to the expected script, Mariano Rajoy maintained that “it had been urgent to restore self-government and to return the Catalan institutions to democratic legality”, and that was why it was done, “and not for any other reason”. In this context, after calling elections using powers exclusive to the president of Catalonia, the Spanish president made an appeal to the “silent or silenced majority” to get out and vote on 21st December in order “to open a new political era” and end the “ravages” of the independence movement. He promised that he would come to Catalonia often during the election campaign, and even before it begins.

“We are all obliged to work so that the 21st December puts an end to this split”, asserted the PP leader, urging voters to “protect the institutions of self-government" and "reduce the social tension”. After describing the economic consequences of the referendum and the declaration of independence, he promised to work “right up to the final moment” so that the Europe Medicines Agency chooses Barcelona for its new headquarters. “Barcelona has the best qualifications technically, but the "proponents of rupture" have shown their unlimited capacity for destruction”, he argued. He also asked other Spaniards not to boycott Catalan products and that companies should not leave Catalonia, even though his own government had earlier approved a decree to facilitate their departure.

Rajoy denied that political ideas are pursued in the Spanish state. “In Spain you can stand up for any idea, you can even support independence, but independence supporters are also subject to the law”, he pointed out. He criticised the independence movement for unleashing “insecurity and uncertainty”.

Albiol calls for a united front

Meanwhile, the PP candidate for the 21st December elections, Xavier García Albiol, began his address by expressing gratitude to Rajoy: “We want to thank for you for putting article 155 into force”. These opening words filled the room with applause, which Rajoy responded to by getting to his feet and blowing kisses. “It has been demonstrated that independence is toxic and that it destroys Catalonia”, reproached Albiol.

The leader of the PP's Catalan division denied that the elections were a plebiscite, but he did defend their importance: “They will not just be normal regional elections, nor a plebiscite. They will be Catalan autonomous elections called by Mariano Rajoy in which the future of our children is in play”. He also rejected that Spain has any political prisoners: “Today Spain is one of the most consolidated democracies in Europe and the world and nobody is imprisoned for their ideas, only those who commit crimes or put themselves outside the law”. He asserted that “this country is so generous” that people who disagree “can go out and protest” as the independence movement had on Saturday.

In this regard, Albiol suggested that allowing pro-independence politicians to continue in power was not compatible with Catalonia's ability to retain its business sectors. Catalans, he said, would have to choose “between the return of Puigdemont and Junqueras and the return of the Planeta Group, between the continuing dominance of the CUP party or the return of Bimbo, between Carme Forcadell coming back to Barcelona or the Onda media awards doing the same”. And he asked his audience: “Which do you prefer? Business, employment and future, or revolution, blocked highways and stones on the railway tracks?"

The PP's Catalonia candidate said he wanted to send a special message to the PSC (Catalan Socalisat Party) and Cs (Citizens Party). He expressed concern at the fact that Ramon Espadaler, who helped organized the unofficial 9-N independence vote in 2014, had joined the socialist ticket and asked the PSC not to repeat “past errors like the tripartite government" - combining Spanish and pro-Catalan leftist parties. With reference to this, he referred to the PP's current number two list member for the Lleida province, the former socialist mayor of Gimenells, Dante Pérez. He also asked the Citizens party to abandon its populist electoral ticks.

Cospedal, against "populists and demagogues"

Then, in a very strongly-worded discourse, PP secretary general María Dolores de Cospedal denied that president Carles Puigdemont and the four ministers with him in Brussels are in exile: “if people run away from the law, they are called 'fugitives from justice', there is no other name for them”. Cospedeal defended the “right to decide of all Spaniards” through the Spanish parliament, and she reiterated that the Spanish state has a clear separation of powers.

“What we have seen these last few years in Catalonia from people who wanted to impose their will and enforce conformity of ideas and feelings, has caused a lot of pain”, Cospedal asserted, adding that the “worst betrayal” of the Catalan government was “to work to divide and confront families, neighbours and friends”. And she added: "We cannot forgive them for this".

She defended the need for elections and backed Albiol as the best candidate. “We have always been above the populists, the demagogues and those who exclusively think about their own personal and political gain”, she assured.

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