-The Catalan parliament has voted 70 to 10 – with two blank ballots – to declare its independence from Spain
-In response, the Spanish senate in Madrid has dismantled Catalonia’s autonomy by invoking article 155
-Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy said he wanted to ‘shut down’ the Catalan regional parliament in a speech today
-Catalan MPs opposed to the region’s independence stormed out of parliament before the vote in protest
-Jubilant Catalans are dancing in the streets of Barcelona in response to the news of the declaration
The Catalan Parliament has voted to declare independence from Spain, prompting the central government to impose direct rule just 40 minutes later.
The motion was carried by 70 votes to 10, with two abstentions.
But before the vote, opposition parties stormed out of parliament in protest – with pro-independence MPs draping their empty seats with Catalan flags.
In response, the Spanish government in Madrid has invoked article 155 of the country’s constitution, dismantling Catalonia’s autonomy.
Carles Puigemont, who has already sent his family over the border for their own safety, may now face arrest for sedition.
Pro-independence groups have vowed a campaign of civil disobedience to protect public buildings on the event of a crackdown by Madrid, which may involve the feared national riot police and even the army.
Thousands of Catalans gathered outside the parliament building and cheered and danced after the motion passed.
The Spanish prime minister wrote on Twitter immediately after the vote: ‘I ask all Spaniards to remain calm. The rule of law will restore legality in Catalonia.’
Regional President Carles Puigdemont and Vice President Oriol Junqueras exchanged congratulatory embraces and handshakes after the vote.
The Spanish senate, where Prime Minister Rajoy’s Popular Party holds an absolute majority, will vote on steps to depose Catalonia’s secessionist government later this afternoon. It is expected to back his plans.
There are fears the developments could lead to violence as Spain attempts to impose rule on the rebellious region.
Speaking to senators earlier today, Rajoy said Spain had to force Catalonia to submit to the Spanish constitution.
He also attacked the region for ‘mocking democracy’ in a way reminiscent of the era of fascist Spanish leader Francisco Franco, and said he wanted ‘a return to legality’.
The prime minister urged lawmakers to ‘proceed to the dismissal of the president of the Catalan government, his vice-president and all regional ministers’ during his widely applauded speech.
It comes after the region held an independence referendum on October 1 that the Spanish government deemed illegal and during which over 800 people were hurt in clashes.
Meanwhile, several thousand pro-independence protesters have gathered near the Catalan parliament in Barcelona.
The proposal for independence made by the ruling Catalan coalition Junts pel Si (Together for Yes) and their allies of the far-left CUP party said: ‘We establish a Catalan Republic as an independent and sovereign state of democratic and social law.’
Legislators from both parliamentary groups have a slim majority that would in theory allow them to pass the motion during a vote later on Friday, if the parliament’s advisory board allows it.
MPs from the opposition Socialists and Citizens parties had announced earlier that they would boycott the vote on the establishment of a new Catalan Republic in a motion proposed by the majority separatists.
Lawmakers from Partido Popular – the ruling party at the national level, but a minority in Catalonia – also walked out after placing Spanish and Catalonia official flags in their empty seats.
‘Today is the day that many Catalans’ long-held desire will be fulfilled, but tomorrow the cruel reality will set in with the Spanish state armed with its interpretation of Article 155,’ the former speaker of the Catalan parliament Joan Rigol i Roig, told The Associated Press. ‘We can only hope that the conflict remains in the political realm.’
The move is opposed by all the opposition in the prosperous region, with some opposition lawmakers saying they will boycott the vote, and in Madrid, where authorities are seeking to dismiss the Catalan ruling coalition.
A socialist lawmaker in the parliament lambasted the separatists for bending national and regional laws to move toward declaring independence and vowed to work ‘for the return of legality to public institutions.’
How would Spain seize control of Catalonia?
Invoking the never-before-used article 155 of the constitution, designed to rein in rebel regions, the Spanish government has proposed to dismiss the entire Catalan regional executive, including president Carles Puigdemont and vice-president Oriol Junqueras.
They would be replaced by nominees from the central government. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy says national ministries will take over for as long as this ‘exceptional situation’ lasts.
The measures also seek power for Rajoy to call elections for a new regional parliament ‘in a maximum timeframe of six months from the Senate’s approval’.
They may also replace anyone working in a public entity, such as the region’s broadcasters.
Catalan police force
Under the proposed measures, Catalonia’s regional police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra, would come under direct Madrid control.
Whoever is named to take the reins of the regional interior ministry will ‘give members of Catalonia’s police – the Mossos d’Esquadra – direct instructions they will have to comply with’, according to a government document setting out the plans.
If necessary, members of the Catalan force can also ‘be replaced by state security forces’, according to the document.
Madrid had already seized control of wide areas of Catalan public spending in September, seeking in vain to stop the referendum.
It will now seek full control over the region’s finances, including budgets and tax, to ensure that not a single euro of public money can be spent on efforts to break away.
Telecommunications and media
Regional ‘telecommunications and digital services’ will also come under Madrid’s governance, and the heads or employees of Catalan public media can be replaced.
The Spanish government wants to ‘guarantee the transmission of truthful, objective and balanced information, which respects political, social and cultural pluralism, and also the territorial balance’.
This means Madrid will have a say in what is broadcast on popular Catalan media such as TV3 television.
Unions at TV3 have accused the channel of being biased in favour of independence, just as unions of the Spain-wide TVE news channel have accused it of being pro-Madrid.
The measures would also see Madrid take control of the Catalan parliament, where pro-independence lawmakers have an absolute majority of 72 seats out of 135.
The Spanish government has not called for Carme Forcadell, the head of the Catalan parliament and a staunch independence supporter, to be replaced.
But it stipulates the regional parliament ‘won’t be able to process initiatives that run counter’ to the proposed measures.
In order to ensure this, the central government wants to appoint an entity that will ensure every single text being processed through parliament conforms to the measures.
Spokeswoman Eva Granados said the legislators of the Socialists of Catalonia Party, or PSC, will be absent from the vote on a proposal to establish a new republic. Conservative unionist parties in the opposition have also promised to leave the chamber.
Granados said the separatists are ‘thoughtless’ and asked them why to build a new country based on a concept of democracy that is ‘intolerant and sectarian,’ and that excludes those who oppose independence.
Meanwhile Carlos Carrizosa, spokesman for the pro-union Citizens party, ripped up the copy of the proposed law to declare independence during the debate prior to an expected vote in Catalonia’s parliament.
Carrizosa said ‘with this paper you leave those Catalans who don’t follow you orphaned without a government, and that’s why Citizens won’t let you ruin Catalonia.’
He added that ‘today is a sad, dramatic day in Catalonia. Today is the day that you (secessionists) carry out your coup against the democracy in Spain.’
The spokesman for the radical-left secessionist CUP party said Catalonia is poised to exercise what separatists call the Spanish region’s right to self-determination.
Carles Riera of CUP says ‘Today we are ready to make a historic step. Today we become a political entity with right to self-determination and we are exercising it.’
Spain has vowed to stop any attempt at secession.
Some independence supporters have also promised a campaign of civil disobedience.
Several hundred Catalan town mayors also joined in a chant for ‘Independence!’ inside Catalonia’s regional parliament building.
Waving Catalan flags and chanting ‘independence’ and ‘freedom,’ the demonstrators rallied outside the park in which parliament is located, hoping to see the proclamation of a new independent state by the end of the day.
A 68-year-old protester, Jordi Soler, said: ‘I am here today because we will start the Catalan Republic.’
Soler said ‘today is the last chance,’ noting that President Puigdemont had offered to negotiate with the central government in Madrid, ‘but Madrid is starting with total repression and there is no longer any (other) option.’
If, as expected, the Spanish parliament invokes article 155 of the country’s constitution – which is designed to rein in rebel regions – then the entire Catalonian regional government would be dismissed.
Spain would then send its own representatives to rule the region for as long as the ‘exceptional situation’ persists, Rajoy said.
It would also mean that Catalonia’s police force, public broadcasters and parliament would come under the direct control of the central government.
Rajoy also said he would use the powers to call elections for the region within six months.
Pro-independence supporters have already started to gather outside the parliament, where a demonstration was called from 10.30 am (8.30am GMT).
If article 155 were invoked, it would be the first time in four decades of democratic rule that the national government would directly run the affairs of one of Spain’s 17 semi-autonomous regions
Catalan President Carles Puigdemont yesterday ruled out a snap election over fears it would trigger violence.
The president was seen holding hands with his wife as he entered the regional parliament today.
Puigdemont revealed he considered calling elections in an effort to ease the separatist crisis as Madrid prepares to seize control of the region.
But he decided not to because ‘abusive’ Madrid did not offer enough ‘guarantees’ that they would not take over control of Catalonia.
In a televised statement, he said it was now ‘up to the (regional) parliament’.
The regional leader also justified the decision not to hold an election by saying he believed it would spark more violence after the October 1 independence referendum descended into chaos.
It is believed he also changed his mind because of huge divisions within his pro-independence coalition government. Many of his MPs believe he should simply unilaterally declare independence, with one yesterday resigning over the issue.
The crisis has split Catalonia and caused deep resentment around Spain. It has also prompted a flight of business from the wealthy region and alarmed European leaders who fear the crisis could fan separatist sentiment around the continent.
France’s Suez, the top water provider in Spain, has temporarily moved the legal registration of its offices in Catalonia to Madrid because of legal uncertainty related to Catalonia’s independence movement.
‘We have temporarily moved the registered office of Agbar, which is the (Suez) holding company in Catalonia, to Madrid in order to protect the legal certainty of investors, because what we see now in Catalonia is uncertainty,’ Chief Financial Officer Christophe Cros said on an earnings call.’
Huge numbers of independence supporters marched through Barcelona yesterday, blocking several streets as they headed to the government palace after students at the local university went on ‘strike’.
The three-day strike by students at the Autonomous University of Barcelona saw dozens of protesters block entry to facilities in protest of the political crisis, with hundreds of others prevented from attending lectures as a result.
Access was restricted by protesters resulting in students struggling to get in the education facility after commuting from the nearby railway station of Cerdanyola del Valles.
There were reports of clashes between picketing students and those wanting to attend lectures, as well as threats made on social media by protesters.
A professor who teaches economics at the university said: ‘There is always trouble when a strike is called.
‘They have let us teachers pass, but if you wanted to remove the chairs it is the usual mess. It makes me crazy, they justify what they do, but you are not allowed to speak.’
The unnamed professor said numerous classes had been suspended as a result of the protests.
A law professor added: ‘There was a mess because many students wanted to come in and argued with the picket because they wanted to pass, but the picket did not change its attitude.
He added that of the ‘hundreds of students who usually attend each day’, only 50 made it inside.
President Puigdemont’s cabinet, including Junqueras, met for frantic meetings overnight and on Thursday morning and it was thought he was set to call a snap election.
His pro-independence coalition has 72 seats in the Catalan Parliament out of 135.
If the regional government decides to call a snap election it could see Puigdemont increase his majority.
This would then give him mandate to declare that independence had been won lawfully, essentially turning the regional election into a new referendum, after the one earlier this month was branded ‘illegal’ by Madrid.
Germany said on Friday it supported the Spanish government in its dispute with separatists in Catalonia and hoped both sides would de-escalate the situation through dialogue.
‘The government hopes those involved will make use of all opportunities for dialogue and de-escalation’ provided by the Spanish constitution, a German government spokeswoman told a regular government news conference in Berlin
Catalans are fiercely protective of their language, culture and autonomy – restored after the 1939-75 dictatorship of Francisco Franco.
Fears for Catalonia’s economy have increased as uncertainty persists over the independence drive, with some 1,600 companies having moved their legal headquarters out of the region in recent weeks.
Catalonia accounts for about 16 percent of Spain’s population and a fifth of its economic output.
By Jake Wallis Simons And Iain Burns
The 21st Century