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Catalonia's ousted leader calls for peaceful defiance of Spain

BARCELONA, Spain — In a defiant message, Catalonia's ousted leader, Carles Puigdemont, called Saturday for Catalans to unite in peaceful "democratic opposition" after the Spanish central government took control of the restive region — an act Puigdemont called "premeditated aggression."

Puigdemont said in a televised address that "our will is to continue to work to meet our democratic mandates," in an indication that his government may attempt to ignore its dismissal and, in effect, create two competing administrations.

He spoke a day after Spain's prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, fired him and the entire Catalan Cabinet and set a date for new regional elections.

Madrid's hard-line stance was announced shortly after regional lawmakers illegally declared an independent republic, setting up a showdown that escalated the biggest political crisis the country has faced in decades.

On Saturday, a day after the Spanish Senate voted to give Rajoy emergency powers under Article 155 of Spain's Constitution to end the secessionism drive, the full force of the national government's actions went into effect. Madrid took control of Catalonia's government, publishing lists of Catalan officials, alongside their advisers, who were being fired

Spain's deputy prime minister, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, will take over the Catalan administration from Madrid.

In all, more than 140 Catalans were told they no longer hold positions of power.

"These are decisions contrary to the will expressed by the citizens of our country at the ballot boxes," Puigdemont said, speaking from the Catalan capital of Barcelona. He added that the central government in Madrid "knows perfectly well that, in a democratic society, it is the parliaments that choose or remove presidents."

Madrid also took control of the regional police force and fired the regional police chief, Maj. Josep Lluís Trapero.

Pere Soler, ousted director-general of the Catalan police force and Trapero's boss, sent a letter to his officers, expressing regret over his removal and thanking them for their work.

Trapero, who is facing possible sedition charges after he was accused of failing to stop protesters last month from encircling national police officers, also wrote to his colleagues. He reminded them that their task was to "guarantee the safety of everybody" in the coming days, should the political crisis spur more unrest.

As Puigdemont spoke Saturday, throngs of Spaniards gathered in central Madrid — many of them waving flags, some wrapped in them — to protest Catalonia's unilateral declaration of independence.

"We are resisting xenophobia," one man said into a microphone, before shouting, "Long live Catalonia, long live the king, long live Spain."

The crowd chanted: "Don't lie to us, Catalonia. You are part of Spain."

Many protesters said that Madrid had to enforce its decision to invoke Article 155. Some said that, if necessary, the army should be sent in, though most said it would not come to that.

"They need to apply the law," said Chema Martinez, 22, who described himself as a patriot and a Catholic and wore a Spanish flag with the Sacred Heart of Jesus stamped on its center.

Spain's attorney general is expected to take legal action against Puigdemont and other leading separatists Monday, possibly on grounds of rebellion, which carries a prison sentence of as long as 30 years.

Joan Queralt, a professor of criminal law at the University of Barcelona, said he expected the attorney general to act forcefully.

"One thing is what the law says and another is how far the government can act," Queralt said. "I've got the feeling that the attorney general will do whatever he wants, just as happens when governments deal with terrorists."

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