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Spanish PM blasts Catalan 'purge' in referendum runup

SPANISH PM BLASTS CATALAN PURGE IN REFERENDUM RUNUP

The leader of Spain's defiant Catalan region announced a major Cabinet shakeup on Friday, with three high-profile politicians "stepping aside" as the government presses for unity ahead of a controversial independence referendum.

Spain's premier, Mariano Rajoy, reacted sharply to the news at a press conference, calling the regional shakeup a "purge of the doubtful" and a "triumph of radicalism."

"What we've witnessed is one more demonstration of the drift towards authoritarianism," said Rajoy, who continues to vow to prevent Catalonia from ever holding the Oct. 1 referendum.

The three departing politicians were all important members of the government-the regional heads of education and interior affairs and the government spokesperson. In a press conference announcing the resignations, Catalan President Carles Puigdemont said all three had decided to step aside for reasons unrelated to the referendum, and also named their replacements.

"The new councilors have demonstrated in this moment full confidence, courage and loyalty," said the Catalan leader, adding that the government needs "the determination and conviction of all the councilors, without exception, to advance the Oct. 1 referendum."

Leading up to Friday's resignations, tensions had been running high within the Catalan government, according to local Spanish media, and infighting among high-ranking politicians has made headlines in recent weeks.

Beyond debating the logistics of the referendum, considered illegal by Spain, Catalan politicians who violate Madrid are also gearing up to face the consequences. Already, several high-profile separatist politicians have gotten into legal trouble, including Artur Mas, the former president of Catalonia, who in March was barred from holding office and fined for his role in Catalonia's symbolic 2014 referendum.

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