Mr. Rajoy said that his goal was to arrange new Catalan elections within six months, so as to lift the measures taken under Article 155 as soon as possible.
Itâs unclear, however, how such elections would be organized or whether they would significantly change Cataloniaâs political landscape, let alone help to resolve the territorial conflict.
Mr. Puigdemont led a mass demonstration in Barcelona, the regionâs capital, on Saturday afternoon, before giving his official response to Mr. Rajoyâs decision.
Several Catalan separatist politicians, however, reacted immediately to Mr. Rajoyâs announcement, warning that it would escalate rather than resolve the conflict.
Josep LluÃs Cleries, a Catalan Senator, told reporters on Saturday that Mr. Rajoyâs decision showed that âthe Spain of today is not democratic because what he has said is a return to the year 1975,â referring to Francoâs death. Mr. Rajoy, he added, was suspending not autonomy in Catalonia but democracy.
Significantly, IÃ±igo Urkullu, the leader of the Basque region, which also has a long history of separatism, described the measures as âdisproportionate and extreme,â writing on Twitter that they would âdynamite the bridgesâ to any dialogue.
Faced with Madridâs decision to remove him from office, Mr. Puigdemont could try to pre-empt Mr. Rajoyâs intervention and instead ask Catalan lawmakers to vote on a declaration of independence in coming days â as he had threatened to do earlier this month.
Mr. Puigdemont could also then try to convene Catalan elections, on his own terms, to form what he could describe as the first Parliament of a new Catalan republic.
Should Mr. Puigdemont resist Mr. Rajoyâs plans, Spainâs judiciary could separately step in and order that he and other separatists be arrested on charges of sedition or even rebellion for declaring independence.
Rebellion carries a maximum prison sentence of 30 years. Earlier this week, a judge from Spainâs national court ordered prison without bail for two separatist leaders, pending a sedition trial.
Using Article 155 âwas neither our desire nor our intention,â Mr. Rajoy said on Saturday, but had become the only way to to return Catalonia to legality, normality and maintain a Spanish economic recovery âwhich is now under clear danger because of the capricious and unilateral decisionsâ of the Catalan separatist government.
Mr. Rajoy highlighted the decision of over 1,000 Catalan companies this month to relocate their legal headquarters outside the region, in response to the uncertainty generated by the possibility of a breakup with Madrid.
Mr. Rajoy received strong backing from politicians from the main opposition parties, with the notable exception of Podemos, the far-left party that wants to use a referendum to convince Catalan voters to remain within Spain.
âWeâre shocked by the suspension of democracy in Catalonia,â Pablo Echenique, a senior official from Podemos, said in a televised news conference on Saturday, after Mr. Rajoyâs announcement.