BARCELONA/MADRID – Catalonia’s regional parliament declared independence from Spain on Friday in a disputed vote that is now likely to be declared illegal by Spain’s constitutional court.
However, the Spanish government moved to impose direct rule over Catalonia the same day, stripping the region of its autonomy less than an hour after its parliament declared independence in a stunning show of defiance to Madrid.
The independence motion for independence passed in the 135-strong assembly with 70 votes in favor, 10 against and 2 blank ballots, the assembly’s speaker said.
The motion passed in the parliament after a passionate debate from advocates and opponents of independence said Catalonia constituted an independent, sovereign and social democratic state.
Although the Catalan declaration appears to be a doomed gesture, both sides’ moves take Spain’s worst political crisis in four decades to a new and possibly dangerous level.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy called for calm and said the rule of law would be restored in Catalonia, where secessionists have long cherished the dream of a separate nation.
A crowd of more than 2,000 independence supporters gathered in the Ciutadella Park outside the regional parliament in Barcelona, shouting “Liberty” in Catalan and singing traditional songs as the independence vote went through.
But immediately after news of the vote, which three opposition parties boycotted, Spanish shares and bonds were sold off, reflecting business concern over the turmoil in the wealthy region.
Within an hour, the upper house of Spain’s parliament in Madrid authorized Rajoy’s government to rule Catalonia directly — an unprecedented move in Spain since the return of democracy in the late 1970s.
In Brussels, the president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, said the independence vote changed nothing and the EU would only deal with the central government.
The United States, Britain, France and Germany also swiftly dismissed the declaration and expressed support for Rajoy’s efforts to keep Spain united.