BARCELONA: Catalan lawmakers voted Friday to declare independence from Spain, as Madrid vowed, in turn, to “restore legality” and quash the region’s secessionist bid.
With thousands of pro-independence activists gathered outside, the regional parliament in Barcelona passed a resolution to “declare Catalonia an independent state in the form of a republic”.
Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy responded immediately, urging “all Spaniards to remain calm”.
“The rule of law will restore legality in Catalonia,” he tweeted immediately after controversial vote.
Pido tranquilidad a todos los españoles. El Estado de Derecho restaurará la legalidad en Cataluña. MR
— Mariano Rajoy Brey (@marianorajoy) October 27, 2017
Under the eyes of a nervous nation, Catalonia’s regional parliament held a secret ballot, despite an opposition walkout, on a resolution the region´s authorities have no legal power to execute.
The motion was approved with 70 votes in favour, 10 against and two abstentions, a result that immediately saw Spanish shares fall sharply.
‘Dark day for democracy’
Catalan opposition MPs, refusing to even consider the resolution, walked out en masse on what one described as a “dark day” for democracy.
But those who stayed behind, cheered, clapped and embraced before breaking out in the Catalan anthem as the tally was announced.
To the wire
Shortly before the Catalan vote, Rajoy urged lawmakers to give him the power to dismiss Catalonia’s secessionist leader Carles Puigdemont, his deputy, and all regional ministers.
If approved, the measures under Article 155 of the constitution, designed to rein in rebels among Spain´s 17 regions, would enter into force on Saturday — effectively leaving Puigdemont and his team out in the cold.
Puigdemont had opted Thursday not to call elections for a new regional parliament, considered by many to have been the only way to prevent Madrid’s power grab.
Instead, he left it up to the regional parliament “to determine the consequences” of the threatened takeover — thus leaving the door open for Friday´s independence push.
Roughly the size of Belgium, the semi-autonomous northeastern region accounts for about 16 percent of Spain’s population and a fifth of its economic output.
Resentment to Madrid’s perceived interference has been growing for years, culminating in an October 1 independence vote deemed illegal by the central government and courts.
Tens of thousands of independence supporters massed near the Catalan parliament cheered with joy after the vote.
Watching proceedings in parliament on two large screens, they clapped and shouted “independence” in Catalan before singing the regional hymn, many raising their fists.
Some celebrated by drinking Cava, a sparkling wine produced in Catalonia, and hugged each other.
“It has cost us so much to get here,” 38-year-old social worker Judith Rodriguez told AFP in the crowd, with tears in her eyes.
“I am very emotional about finally moving forward, to be able to build a republic, a new country, from scratch,” added Rodriguez, who wore a t-shirt with the slogan “fem pais” or “let’s build a country”.
The independence declaration is not recognised by Madrid, which soon after the parliamentary vote was given the go-ahead by Spain’s Senate to impose direct rule on Catalonia to stop its drive to separate from Spain.
Reacting after the vote, EU President Donald Tusk said that Madrid “remains our only interlocutor”, but nevertheless urged the Spanish government to go easy with its planned temporary takeover of the semi-autonomous region.
“I hope the Spanish government favours force of argument, not argument of force,” he tweeted.
Rodriguez’s partner Jose Ligero, a 43-year-old property manager, said the international community did not understand what was happening in Catalonia.
“I understand that the path we are on is not well regarded in other parts of the world, but we did not have a choice, this was not achieved by politicians, it was done by the street,” he said.
Two influential grassroots independence groups, the Catalan National Assembly and Omnium Cultural, had urged its followers to gather outside the parliament during the vote.