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Catalans Resist Peacefully After Spain Dissolves Region's Autonomous Government


We're going to start the program today by focusing on the ongoing turmoil in Spain. Spain has officially stripped Catalonia of its autonomy and taken control of the previously independent government there. In response, the now ex-leader of the Catalonian government, Carles Puigdemont, condemned the prime minister's decision and called for Catalonians to protest peacefully.

Now this all came to a head after Catalonian lawmakers declared independence from Spain on Friday. But obviously, the roots go much deeper than that. To hear more, we're joined now by BBC reporter Gavin Lee. He's been in Spain for much of the last month reporting on all this, and he's with us now from Barcelona. Gavin Lee, thank you so much for speaking with us.

GAVIN LEE: No worries.

MARTIN: So what's the latest today?

LEE: Well, essentially, we've had a day so, so different than 24 hours ago around the same time where the whole of Barcelona - I followed this march through the streets - of all ages - pensioners, children, families - thousands of independence seekers who started outside the Catalan Parliament.

They were watching on the big screens every twist and turn of what was going on inside - cheering at the voting, singing, waving the Estelada flag of independence. Even the dogs were wrapped up in the flags as well as they went through, probably, about a mile in towards the government offices. And there, they sort of - they danced the night away.

There were a few people with the rojigualda flag of Spain who, you know, were looking down beaten. And today, well, it was almost a day of sort of usual normal activity at a weekend. And I thought what's happened is we've had both in Madrid, where I was earlier this week, and Barcelona, you know, basically a moment of reflection because you have the Spanish government that is about to set in motion Article 155, which is effectively to seize and remove the government ministers, putting one of their own at the moment - the deputy prime minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria.

But also, in Girona today, we had a brief moment where Carles Puigdemont, the Catalan president, appeared for three minutes. It was a prerecorded TV address where he said he would like people to democratically show resistance to any attempt by the Spanish authorities, when it comes, to resist.

MARTIN: So let's take a step back for a moment, if we can. This is a centuries-old struggle. But what are the forces that have come together to make this bubble up now - to make it come to this crisis point now?

LEE: Yeah. You're right. There is a narrative that is centuries old. But in the last 40 years - it has to be said - it is one of the most autonomous regions in Europe. It is one of the most important regions for Spain. It's incredibly wealthy. A lot of the Catalan people who want unity talk about, actually, it's almost greedy by those that are seeking independence not to help wider Spain.

So this is a very complicated struggle. And both sides have incredibly passionate arguments of why they should or shouldn't be part of the wider country. It's also worth saying it is about the size of Belgium. Catalonia - northeast region, seven-and-a-half million people.

MARTIN: So the prime minister of Spain, Mariano Rajoy, says new elections will be held in Catalonia in December. Will Puigdemont be able to run for office again? Do you have any sense of what is coming?

LEE: That's a really good point, actually. Earlier today, there's been a comment from the spokesperson for the Spanish government who has told Reuters effectively that if Carles Puigdemont wants to stand again, then that he shouldn't be stopped from doing so.

And the other thought to bear in mind is that on Monday civil servants will go back to work. Essentially, life should continue as normal. But if you have the leader trying to get into a parliament where there are now potentially two leaders - one officially - and Carles Puigdemont trying to get the keys back into the Catalan Parliament, there's another trigger moment.

MARTIN: That's Gavin Lee of the BBC speaking to us from Barcelona. Gavin, thanks so much for speaking with us.

LEE: All the best, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.