BARCELONA, Spain — The Latest on Catalonia’s bid for independence from Spain (all times local):
Thousands of protesters, mainly university and high school students, are gathering in central Barcelona to protest plans by the Spanish government to assume control of some of the Catalonia region’s affairs.
More than 4,000 protesters, many draped in the red and yellow Catalan flag, have gathered ahead of a scheduled demonstration outside the university building, blocking several nearby streets.
The atmosphere is festive, with music blaring from loudspeakers and students making last-minute banners with cardboard.
Not all the demonstrators are in favor of independence. Seventeen-year-old Martina Gallego says she doesn’t want Catalonia to secede from Spain, but objects strongly to how the Spanish government is treating the region.
Catalonia’s president will make a televised address at 1:30 p.m. (1130 GMT; 7:30 a.m. EDT) amid increasing reports that he’s chosen to call a snap regional election instead of definitively declaring independence, in order to defuse Spain’s deepest political crisis in decades.
Catalonia’s main newspaper La Vanguardia, quoting unnamed government sources, is reporting that Carles Puigdemont is going to dissolve the regional parliament and call a snap election by the end of the year.
Spain’s central government is planning to take control of the region’s powers under the country’s constitution in an attempt to derail Catalonia’s independence bid.
Spain’s conservative government had offered to halt the extraordinary measures if a new election was to be called in Catalonia, but recently backtracked on that. The Spanish Senate is scheduled to approve the plan for the central government to take over Catalonia’s powers on Friday.
Catalonia’s regional leader Carles Puigdemont has appealed to Spain’s national Senate, asking senators to reject extraordinary measures proposed by the Spanish government to take direct control of the region.
In the 8-page document submitted to the Senate on Thursday, Puigdemont says Madrid is trying to solve the crisis by “trying to create an even more extraordinary serious situation by taking away the political autonomy of Catalonia.”
The Senate is expected to approve on Friday the Catalan takeover measure, which includes sacking the region’s elected government and curtailing powers of the regional parliament, as well as control over regional police, finances and public media.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy says he wants to use the extraordinary powers to replace lawmakers in the regional parliament by calling early elections as soon as normalcy is regained in the region.
It’s a key day in the standoff between Spain and the Catalonia region.
The Catalan president could defuse Spain’s deepest political crisis in decades by calling a snap regional election. Or he could crystalize separatist threats by formalizing an independence declaration, something that could land him in jail.
Carles Puigdemont is expected to announce his decision at a session in the regional parliament in Barcelona that starts Thursday and could stretch into Friday.
Regardless of his choice, the Catalan cabinet is set to become the first regional government in Spain to be removed in four decades of democracy. On Friday, the Senate in Madrid is expected to authorize the central government to directly rule the splintering region of 7.5 million.
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