MADRID/BARCELONA (Reuters) – Spain has sacked the chief of Catalonia’s regional police force, Josep Lluis Trapero, as the government in Madrid takes control of the autonomous region to block its push for independence.
Madrid dismissed the Catalan government, took over the administration and called a new election after the region’s parliament declared independence on Friday.
There have been doubts over how the Mossos d‘Esquadra, as the Catalan police are called, would respond if ordered to evict sacked leader Carles Puigdemont and his government.
In an effort to defuse tensions, the regional police force urged its members to behave in a neutral manner and not to take sides, an internal note seen on Saturday by Reuters showed.
Trapero became a hero to the secessionists after his force took a much softer stance than national police in enforcing a government ban on an independence referendum on Oct. 1.
The force is riven by distrust between those for and against independence and is estranged from Spain’s national police forces, Mossos and national police officers have told Reuters.
“Given that there is it is likely to be an increase in gatherings and rallies of citizens in all the territory and that there are people of different thoughts, we must remember that it is our responsibility to guarantee the security of all and help these to take place without incident,” the memo said.
Trapero’s dismissal was signed off by Spanish Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido.
Spain’s High Court last week banned Trapero from leaving Spain and seized his passport as part of an investigation for alleged sedition, although it did not order his arrest.
Prosecutors say he failed to give orders to rescue national police trapped inside a Barcelona building during pro-independence protests last month.
Reporting by Sonya Dowsett and Jesús Aguado, writing by Angus MacSwan, editing by Alexander Smith