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Catalonia’s police force told its officers to remain neutral in the struggle over the region’s fight for independence on Saturday, a step towards averting possible conflict as the Madrid government starts to impose direct control. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy dismissed the Catalan government, took over the administration and called a new election after the regional parliament made a unilateral declaration of independence on Friday, aggravating Spain’s worst political crisis in four decades. The declaration of Catalonia as a separate nation was almost immediately rendered futile by Rajoy’s actions, while other European countries, the United States and Mexico also rejected it and expressed support for Spain’s prime minister. But emotions are running high and the next few days will be tricky for Madrid as it embarks on enforcing direct rule.
Rajoy designated Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz Santamaria to oversee the process. The regional parliament’s vote, which was boycotted by three national opposition parties, capped a battle of wills between the independence movement, headed by the now-sacked Carles Puigdemont and the Madrid government. The separatists say a referendum on October 1 gave them a mandate for independence. However, less than half of eligible voters turned out for the ballot, which Madrid declared illegal and tried to stop. Opinion polls show that more than half of the 5.3 million people eligible to vote in the wealthy northeastern region, which is already autonomous, do not want to break from Spain.