Madrid to impose direct rule as Catalans declare independence

People celebrating in Barcelona yesterday after Catalonia's Parliament voted to declare independence from Spain, despite a walkout by opposition MPs who refused to consider the resolution.
People celebrating in Barcelona yesterday after Catalonia's Parliament voted to declare independence from Spain, despite a walkout by opposition MPs who refused to consider the resolution.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Spanish Upper House authorises Rajoy govt to take action after Catalan Parliament's vote

BARCELONA • Catalan lawmakers voted yesterday to declare independence from Spain, as Madrid vowed in turn to "restore legality" and quash the region's secessionist bid.

Just minutes after the vote in the regional Parliament, the Upper House of the Spanish Parliament authorised the government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to rule Catalonia directly from Madrid.

Mr Rajoy is now expected to convene his Cabinet to adopt the first measures to govern Catalonia. These could include firing the Barcelona government and assuming direct supervision of Catalan police forces.

Under the eyes of a nervous nation and with thousands of pro-independence activists gathered outside, the regional Parliament in Barcelona passed the resolution to "declare Catalonia an independent state in the form of a republic".

The regional Parliament held a secret ballot despite an opposition walkout. It was approved with 70 votes in favour, 10 against and two abstentions, a result that immediately saw Spanish shares fall sharply.

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.

Mr Rajoy responded almost immediately after the controversial vote, urging "all Spaniards to remain calm".

"The rule of law will restore legality in Catalonia," he tweeted.

The Spanish Prime Minister had earlier 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 today - effectively leaving Mr Puigdemont and his team out in the cold.

Mr Puigdemont had opted on 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 yesterday's independence push.

Roughly the size of Belgium, the semi-autonomous north-eastern Catalan region accounts for about 16 per cent of Spain's population and a fifth of its economic output. Resentment at Madrid's perceived interference has been growing for years, culminating in an Oct 1 independence vote deemed illegal by the central government and courts.

But while fiercely protective of their language, culture and autonomy - restored at the end of the 1939-1975 dictatorship of Francisco Franco - Catalans are deeply divided on independence.

The Catalan authorities said 90 per cent voted "yes" in the unregulated plebiscite held up by secessionist leaders as a mandate for independence for the wealthy region of 7.5 million people. But only about 43 per cent of voters turned out to vote in the plebiscite.

In Brussels, European Council president Donald Tusk said the Catalan vote had changed nothing and reiterated that the European Union would deal only with the central government in Madrid.

"For EU, nothing changes. Spain remains our only interlocutor," he said on Twitter.

He also urged Spain to favour "force of argument, not argument of force".

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE,REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 28, 2017, with the headline 'Madrid to impose direct rule as Catalans declare independence'. Print Edition | Subscribe