BARCELONA, Spain — The latest on the Spain-Catalonia political crisis (all times local):

2:45 p.m.

A former president of the European Parliament has defended the intervention of Spain in the running of Catalonia’s regional government after its legislature voted to secede.

Josep Borrell, also a former Spanish minister, told a pro-union rally in Barcelona on Sunday that the government’s use of Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution to take control of Catalonia is the only thing that is averting an economic crisis in the northeastern region.

Borrell says that if Article 155 hadn’t been invoked “many of you would have lost your jobs. and if that hasn’t happened it’s because thanks to the application of Article 155 businesses and markets understand that there won’t be (secession).”

Borrell said that if Spain had not suspended self-rule by Catalonia’s secessionists even more business would have left Catalonia in recent weeks than the 1,700 companies which have relocated headquarters to other parts of Spain in recent weeks.


2:10 p.m.

Spain’s foreign minister says Catalonia’s deposed leader would be eligible to run in the regional election called by the central government on Dec. 21, provided he hasn’t been imprisoned by then.

Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis told The Associated Press in an interview in Madrid that Carles Puigdemont’s pro-independence party could “theoretically” put him up as a candidate “if he is not put in jail at that time.”

Puigdemont could face criminal charges for his role in the separatist movement that culminated in the Catalan parliament declaring an independent republic on Friday.


12:20 p.m.

Tens of thousands of demonstrators, many of them carrying Spanish and official “senyera” Catalan flags, have gathered on a central Barcelona boulevard in a call for Spain’s unity.

The atmosphere was festive, as many cheered politicians and central government officials who joined the march. Some chanted “Puigdemont, to jail!” referring to the ousted regional leader who has been fired along with his Cabinet by the Spanish government after an independence declaration Friday.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has also dissolved Catalonia’s parliament and called a regional election for Dec. 21. Demonstrators are chanting “Now yes, we are going to vote!” and applauding every time a national police helicopter flies over the crowd. “This is our police!” they chanted.


11:40 a.m.

The regional leader of one of Spain’s main parties that wants to keep the country united has called on a massive turnout at a rally to protest the declaration of independence by Catalonia’s parliament.

Ines Arrimadas of the Citizens party says “today the silent majority of Catalans are once again taking to the street to show that the majority of Catalans feel Catalan, Spanish and European.”

Arrimadas urged those Catalans in favor of remaining in Spain to vote for pro-union parties in a regional election on Dec. 21.

The Spanish government used extraordinary powers given to it by the Senate to fire the regional government of Catalonia and dissolve its parliament after it voted in favor of secession on Friday.

Arrimadas says “we will go out to win (the elections) and give Catalans the chance to recover our future.”


11:30 a.m.

Organizers say that a march calling for the unity of Spain in downtown Barcelona should claim the streets for all Catalans and not only for those in support of the region’s independence.

Alex Ramos, president for the pro-union Societat Civil Catalana grassroots platform, says: “We have organized ourselves late, but we are here to show that there is a majority of Catalans that are no longer silent and that no longer want to be silenced.”

Pro-union forces have made a call for defeating separatists in an early regional election on Dec. 21. The vote has been called by Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy after dismissing the Catalan government and dissolving the regional parliament where independence was proclaimed.

Commenting on the regional separatist leader Carles Puigdemont’s refusal to step down, the leader of the pro-business center-right Ciudadanos (Citizens) party Albert Rivera said separatists were “living in a parallel reality.”

Rivera told reporters “this is not the time to live in a ‘matrix’ type of reality. It’s time to take over the streets and take over the ballot boxes.”


11:20 a.m.

The ousted vice president of Catalonia’s rebellious government has left open the possibility that secessionist parties will participate in a regional election called by Spain’s central government.

Oriol Junqueras wrote in an open letter published Sunday in Catalan newspaper El Punt-Avui that separatist forces must “continue forward without ever renouncing the ballot boxes.”

Junqueras, regional president Carles Puigdemont and the rest of their top government officials were fired by Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy on Saturday a day after Catalonia’s Parliament voted in favor of a declaration of independence for the northeastern region.

Rajoy also announced that he was dissolving the Catalan Parliament and called regional elections for December 21 in hopes that pro-union parties can take back the majority in the region’s legislative chamber.


10:30 a.m.

Hundreds of people opposing Catalan independence have begun gathering in central Barcelona before what is expected to be a major demonstration in favor of Spain’s unity.

The protesters, waving Spanish flags, were to march later in the day through part of the city center. The demonstration comes two days after Catalonia’s separatist lawmakers voted to secede from Spain. The move was met by the central government in Madrid triggering unprecedented constitutional powers to take control of the region’s affairs.

Organizers of Sunday’s march say its goal is to defend Spain’s unity and reject “an unprecedented attack in the history of democracy.” Their slogan will be “We are all Catalonia. Common sense for coexistence!” Members of the central government and main pro-union parties are expected to join.

Three weeks ago, the same group organized a mass rally that brought hundreds of thousands onto Barcelona’s streets.


10:20 a.m.

A Belgian government official says it would be “not unrealistic” for ousted Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont to ask for asylum and warns it would create serious diplomatic difficulties with fellow European Union member state Spain.

Asylum State Secretary Theo Francken tweeted early Sunday that “it is possible to ask for asylum as an EU subject” in Belgium. Francken stressed that Belgium wasn’t seeking such a scenario, saying “I’m not rolling out the welcome mat.”

Francken added that if such a request would come in, “we’d enter a difficult diplomatic situation with the Spanish authorities. That is evident.”

There has been no indication that Puigdemont has requested asylum after Spain took control of Catalonia’s government and dismissed its leaders, including Puigdemont, after regional lawmakers voted to declare independence from Spain.


8:35 a.m.

Catalonia’s main city Barcelona is bracing for a new day of protests over an independence declaration that led to the regional government’s dismissal by Spain.

Societat Civil Catalan has called for those who oppose Catalan independence to march at noon Sunday (1100 GMT; 7 a.m. EDT).

Organizers say the march’s goal is to defend Spain’s unity and reject “an unprecedented attack in the history of democracy.” Their slogan will be “We are all Catalonia. Common sense for coexistence!” Members of the central government and main pro-union parties are expected to join.

Three weeks ago, the same group organized a mass rally that brought hundreds of thousands onto Barcelona’s streets.

No pro-independence marches were expected Sunday. Catalonia’s ousted leader has called for Catalans to engage in peaceful opposition.

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