Spain’s King Felipe VI has spoken on the crisis over Catalan leaders’ bid for independence, accusing them of threatening the country’s stability and urging the state to defend “constitutional order.”
The 49-year-old king abandoned his previously measured tone over tensions with Catalonia as the standoff dragged Spain into its deepest political trouble in decades.
He spoke in a live broadcast Tuesday night after hundreds of thousands of Catalans rallied in fury at violence by police against voters during a banned referendum on independence for their region on Sunday.
Catalan regional leaders held the vote in defiance of the national government which brands it illegal — as did Felipe on Tuesday.
King Felipe VI: denounces Catalan independence move
“With their irresponsible conduct they could put at risk the economic and social stability of Catalonia and all of Spain,” he said of the Catalan leadership.
“They have placed themselves totally outside the law and democracy,” he said.
“It is the responsibility of the legitimate state powers to ensure constitutional order.”
“Today Catalan society is fractured and in conflict,” he said. “They (the Catalan leaders) have infringed the system of legally approved rules with their decisions, showing an unacceptable disloyalty towards the powers of the state.”
The king said the crown was strongly committed to the Spanish constitution and to democracy and underlined his commitment to the unity and permanence of Spain. He had earlier met Rajoy to discuss the situation in Catalonia.
Police unions and political experts warned earlier that Spain’s government risks losing control of the northeastern region.
It is considered Spain’s worst political crisis since an attempted military coup in 1981, which was defused by Felipe’s father, King Juan Carlos I.
Crowds in Barcelona on Tuesday yelled for national security forces to get out of the region, branding them “occupation forces” and raising their middle fingers at a police helicopter circling overhead.
Barcelona football club refused to train as part of a strike.
Officials said the strike slowed down public transport and paralyzed freight shipments in the port of Barcelona.
It also closed down tourist sites such as the city’s emblematic Sagrada Familia Church.
Protesters rallied in the afternoon and a further demo started in the early evening, with demonstrators dancing in a central Barcelona avenue and beating drums in a carnival atmosphere.
“The streets will always be ours,” youngsters in the crowds yelled.
City police put the number of demonstrators at 700,000.
Pictures of police beating unarmed Catalan voters with batons and dragging some by the hair during Sunday’s ballots drew international criticism.
Some demonstrators said they were not pro-independence but came out to protest Tuesday in reaction to the police violence.
“The important thing is for the people to be united,” said one such voter, Rachael Moya, a social worker.
“I am here because of what happened the other day. The people should be allowed to vote and we should fight against police repression.”
Catalan regional leader Carles Puigdemont said nearly 900 people had received medical attention on Sunday, though local authorities confirmed a total of 92 injured. Four were hospitalized, two in serious condition.
The national government said more than 400 police officers were hurt.