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Oct 21, 12:31 PM EDT

The Latest: March in Barcelona rejects takeover by Spain

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AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) -- The Latest on Catalonia's effort to break away from Spain and the Spanish government's response (all times local):

6:30 p.m.

Catalan regional authorities are joining hundreds of thousands protesting in Barcelona in a massive show of support for independence. They are also calling for the release of two prominent activists who have been jailed while awaiting possible sedition charges.

The march was initially called by Catalan National Assembly and Omnium Cultural to press for their leaders' release - but it has become a collective rejection of the Spanish government's move to take over Catalonia's regional powers.

The Spanish government wants to sack Catalonia's separatist leaders and call a new election using previously untapped constitutional powers to take control of the prosperous region.

A banner reading "Freedom for Jordi Sanchez! Freedom for Jordi Cuixart!" opened the march. Regional leader Carles Puigdemont is to deliver a televised address later Saturday.

5:55 p.m.

The vice president of the Spanish Senate says a session next Friday will vote on measures proposed by Spain's government to take control of the northeastern Catalonia region.

Conservative senator Pedro Blanco told reporters the governing body of the top legislative chamber is setting up a special commission of 27 senators to make the first assessment of the measures on Tuesday.

Regional Catalan President Carles Puigdemont can make an appeal of the measures by appearing before the commission before Thursday at noon or by sending an envoy.

The special commission is then expected to approve a final proposal that will be taken to the plenary session on Friday for final approval. The ruling Popular Party has an absolute majority in the chamber and is expected to receive wide support from opposition senators for measures to keep Spain unified.

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5:15 p.m.

FC Barcelona President Josep Maria Bartomeu says the famed soccer club is backing the leaders of Catalonia in response to the Spanish government's decision to take over the regional government.

Bartomeu said Saturday that "the fact that people have been imprisoned for their political ideas is unacceptable in the 21st century. No one can question Barcelona's commitment to Catalan society and its democratic institutions."

To block the Catalan independence push, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy wants the Senate to give him direct power to dissolve the regional Catalan government and call an early election.

Bartomeu says Barcelona sides with those who defend the Catalan people's right to vote in a referendum for independence. He also said the club aims to remain in the Spanish league.

He says "we demand respect for Barcelona and the plurality of its members. We can't allow ourselves to become a tool manipulated for political interests."

Barcelona leads the Spanish LaLiga and hosts Malaga later tonight.

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3:00 p.m.

Catalonia's vice president was one of the first regional cabinet members to react to the announcement that Spanish authorities are seeking to dissolve the cabinet and take control of the prosperous territory.

Oriol Junqueras promised to meet supporters at a protest scheduled for Saturday afternoon in Barcelona to take a stand "against totalitarianism"

He tweeted: "Today more than ever, let's defend democracy and civil and political rights."

Marta Rovira, the general secretary of the Junqueras' separatist ERC party, said Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's actions are a "coup d'etat" designed to crush Catalonia's self-rule and aspirations of breaking away from Spain.

Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau has opposed a declaration of independence in Catalonia based on an the Oct. 1 referendum that Spain's Constitutional Court had suspended.

Colau nonetheless criticized the central government on Saturday and called its moves "a serious attack" on Catalonia's regional autonomy.

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2:20 p.m.

Officials in Catalonia says regional leader Carles Puigdemont plans to join an afternoon protest before delivering a speech in response to the Spanish government's decision to take over the regional cabinet's functions.

In the streets of Barcelona, banging pots and pans and honking cars greeted Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's announcement Saturday that the central government wants to replace the regional cabinet to block its bid to break away from Spain.

At the national level, Pablo Echenique, a secretary in the far-left Podemos party, vowed to work to oust Rajoy and his conservative Popular Party.

Pro-business Ciudadanos (Citizens) party president Albert Rivera says he supports the announced measures to heal divisions created by the Catalan independence movement and to provide the security companies need to remain in Catalonia.

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1:50 p.m.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy says he wants the Senate to give him direct power to dissolve the regional Catalan government and to call an early election as soon as possible.

Rajoy said after meeting with his Cabinet on Saturday that the central government needs to take the unprecedented step of assuming control of Catalonia to "restore order" in the face of a secession effort backed by the regional government.

He is proposing that the powers of Catalan officials be taken over by central government ministers.

Rajoy's government is activating a previously untapped constitutional article to take control of Catalonia.

The move is aimed at blocking the independence movement that has gained pace since a disputed Oct. 1 referendum on separating Catalonia from Spain.

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11:50 a.m.

A spokeswoman for Spain's Constitutional Court says the court's website has been affected by a cyberattack of unknown origin.

The attack on Saturday came as social media accounts linked to the Anonymous hacktivist group had launched a campaign to "free Catalonia."

The spokeswoman says it only affected the court's website and no internal information was compromised. She requested anonymity in line with internal rules.

Spain's National Security Department said late on Friday that an undisclosed number of government websites had been hit in recent weeks with slogans supporting independence for the country's Catalonia region.

In a YouTube video posted by an account linked to Anonymous, the group announced actions that would be rolled out on Saturday as part of an "Operation Free Catalonia."

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10.30 a.m.

A Cabinet meeting is underway in Madrid to outline government measures for taking control of the Catalonia region to stop regional authorities from breaking away from Spain.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is chairing the meeting at the Moncloa palace on Saturday.

The measures could include stripping some or all of the top Catalan officials of their authority and laying out a roadmap to an early regional election for as early as January.

Rajoy said Friday that the goal of revoking Catalan self-governance is "the return to legality and the recovery of institutional normalcy."

Members of the ruling separatist coalition in Catalonia have rejected the idea of fresh regional elections as a way out to the crisis.

Instead, they are threatening to make an explicit declaration of independence if central authorities go ahead with the intervention in the region's autonomous powers.

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10:10 a.m.

The Spanish government is activating a previously untapped constitutional article to take control of the Catalonia region in a bid to stop a rebellion from separatist politicians.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's Cabinet is meeting Saturday to outline the scope and timing of the measures the government plans to take under Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution.

The article allows central authorities to intervene when one of Spain's 17 autonomous regions fails to comply with the law.

Rajoy could force the removal of Catalan officials and call early regional elections for as soon as January.

Opposition parties have agreed to support him in revoking Catalonia's autonomy. The specific measures need approval from the country's Senate.

Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont has threatened to call a vote in the regional parliament for an explicit declaration of independence from Spain.

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