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Toronto professor concerned as Catalonia teeters on the brink

Berta Esteve-Volart, associate professor at the Department of Economics at York University, said police brutality during the region's outlawed independence referendum sent many Catalans past the point of no return.

Pro-independence graffiti on a doorway on Oct. 23 in Barcelona.

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Pro-independence graffiti on a doorway on Oct. 23 in Barcelona.

A York University professor who has watched Catalonia slip into political crisis says she is increasingly worried about her home region as Spain moves to take over.

Over the weekend the Spanish government said it will implement direct rule over the northeast province — an escalation of tensions that have simmered since the semi-autonomous region held an independence referendum on Oct. 1. Spain declared the vote illegal.

Berta Esteve-Volart, associate professor at York's Department of Economics, said the movement was hugely emboldened after voters who tried to protect polling stations were confronted by Spanish police. Hundreds were injured, and many opposed to independence have since changed their minds, she said.

“When they knew about these abuses, they thought it was important to let people know their opinion, to let the government know that they can’t shut people up,” said Esteve-Volart.

Catalonia’s parliament said it will hold a debate Thursday on Madrid’s plan, announced Saturday by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, to take direct control. Many fear the region's session could become a cover for a vote on declaring independence.

Rajoy is seeking to trigger Article 155 of the constitution, which allows the central government to intervene in running Catalonia, after the regional government claimed a mandate to secede from Spain after the referendum.

The Spanish government says no dialogue is possible with independence on the table and is seeking an early regional election and the removal of Catalan officials. Already dealing with the bitter fallout from Brexit, the European Union has avoided direct intervention, calling the crisis an "internal matter for Spain."

Esteve-Volart, who feels independence would be a positive development for economic as well as cultural reasons, has lived in Toronto since 2004.

“This is even more shocking to me because I’m used to living in a developed democracy,” she said. “I’m used to living in countries where conflict is tackled and not let get to this point.”

Spain’s political parties designated 27 senators to study the government request to apply Article 155. The group includes 15 members of Rajoy’s ruling Popular Party, meaning it will almost certainly be approved.

The commission is expected to invite Catalan president Carles Puigdemont to defend his case, most likely by Thursday, prior to a Senate vote Friday to activate the measures.

“There’s a recognition among many that the Spanish institutions don’t work so well,” Esteve-Volart said. “There's been a constant dismissal of Catalan concerns. Particularly after the brutality, many people are done.”

With files from The Associated Press

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