BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy urged voters in Catalonia on Sunday to defeat the separatists who led the region's recent drive for independence when they go to the polls in an early election next month.
Rajoy, who used previously untapped constitutional authority to call the Dec. 21 regional election, told members of his conservative Popular Party at a Barcelona hotel that "we want a massive turnout to open up a new period of normalcy" in Catalonia.
Rajoy's visit to Barcelona, Catalonia's main city, was his first to the region since he used the constitutional powers to stifle the secession push led by the regional government.
After Catalonia's Parliament voted Oct. 27 in favor of declaring independence, Rajoy responded by firing top government officials, dissolving the Parliament and ordering the early election.
Spain's Constitution says the nation is "indivisible."
"It's urgent to return a sense of normality to Catalonia and do so as soon as possible to lower the social and economic tensions," Rajoy said Sunday. "The threat of the separatists is destructive, sad and agonizing. Secessionism has created insecurity and uncertainty."
Polls show a tight race between Catalan separatists and politicians who want the region to remain a part of Spain. In Brussels on Sunday, those favoring independence for Catalonia rallied near the European Union quarter.
Rajoy's party has won three national elections since 2011, but secured less than 10 percent of the vote in Catalonia's 2015 regional election.
The Popular Party continues to poll behind several other parties in the region, including the pro-business Citizens and the Socialists, which both oppose secession.
The far-left separatist CUP party decided Sunday to participate in the December elections. The CUP is one of three pro-secession parties in the region.
Rajoy defended his decision to temporarily take over running Catalonia under a section of the Spain Constitution that allows central authorities to intervene in regions where officials act outside the law.
Catalonia's separatists, and even some moderates, have criticized the measures as heavy-handed.
"Exceptional measures can only be taken when there is no other option, and we adopted them to stop the increasing attacks to peaceful coexistence," Rajoy said.
Apart from the government takeover, 10 Catalan separatist leaders have been jailed while their roles in promoting secession are under investigation. Catalonia's deposed president and four former members of his Cabinet fled to Brussels and plan to fight extradition to Spain.
Rajoy linked the continued economic recovery of Spain, and especially Catalonia, to the removal of pro-independence parties from power.
Over 2,000 companies have relocated their headquarters from Catalonia due to fears of being cast out of the European Union's common market in the case of secession. Employment numbers also showed that Catalonia fell behind other parts of Spain in October.
"But I say that the recovery of legality and normalcy will help reactivate the economy," the prime minister said.