Madrid poised for direct rule after Catalan parliament declares independence

Deputies of Catalonian Parliament, who support the independence of Catalonia, shout slogans after Catalonian Parliament declared independence (Burak Akbulut/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

SPAIN faces a territorial showdown after Catalonia’s regional parliament voted to establish an independent republic, prompting the Spanish Senate to authorise the government to take control of the region.

A majority of senators gave prime minister Mariano Rajoy the go-ahead to apply unprecedented constitutional measures, including firing Catalan President Carles Puigdemont and his cabinet and curtailing Catalan parliamentary powers.

It will be the first time in four decades of democratic rule in Spain that the national government in Madrid will directly run the affairs of one of the country’s 17 semi-autonomous regions, a move that could fan the flames of the Catalan revolt.

A spokesman for the central government said Mr Rajoy’s cabinet will enact the measures immediately during an urgent meeting.

People’s Party members applause to Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy (Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images)

In Barcelona, the main city in Catalonia, the vote on the motion to secede was approved with 70 in favour of independence, 10 against and two blank ballots in the 135-member parliament.

Separatist legislators erupted in applause and chants when the chamber’s main speaker announced the motion passed. Members stood to chant the Catalan anthem, joined by dozens of guests, while Mr Puigdemont and his vice president, Oriol Junqueras, exchanged congratulatory embraces and handshakes.

Outside the parliament, thousands who had gathered to call for independence cheered the news, with some dancing and raising glasses to toast the vote after seeing the vote-counting live on a giant screen.

The motion calls for beginning an independence process that includes drafting new key laws for Catalonia and opening negotiations “on equal footing” with Spanish authorities to establish co-operation.

“Today the parliament fulfilled the long-desired and fought-for step … in the days ahead we must keep to our values of pacifism and dignity. It’s in our, in your hands, to build the republic,” Mr Puigdemont said.

Mr Rajoy, who had delivered an impassioned speech at the Senate in Madrid earlier on Friday, immediately called for citizens to keep their heads.

“I call on all Spaniards to remain calm. The rule of law will restore legality to Catalonia,” he said on Twitter.

Mr Rajoy says the measures to take over Catalan affairs are aimed at restoring order and has promised to call a new regional election once that is achieved.

Catalan independence supporters react to the parliamentary vote (Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

Catalonia, a region of 7.5 million people, represents a fifth of Spain’s gross domestic product and polls show its people roughly evenly divided over independence.

The regional government said a disputed October 1 referendum, which was banned by Spain’s Constitutional Court, had given it the mandate to declare independence.

In Madrid, the conservative Spanish leader, who received sustained applause before and after his speech, told the chamber Spain was facing a challenge not seen in its recent history.

What is happening in Catalonia is “a clear violation of the laws, of democracy, of the rights of all, and that has consequences”, Mr Rajoy said.

Mr Rajoy said the special measures are the only way out of the crisis, adding that Spain is not trying to take away liberties from Catalans but instead trying to protect them.

A spokesman with Spain’s prosecutors’ office said officials would seek rebellion charges for those responsible for the independence vote.

Under Spanish criminal law, rebellion can be punished by up to 25 years in prison, with shorter penalties if the rebellion does not lead to violence.

The independence move was opposed by all Catalan opposition legislators, who walked out before the vote.

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