A thousand protesters formed a human chain around the main government building in Girona, the ousted Catalan president’s hometown, to defy a takeover from Madrid.
The activists, who held up blue pro-independence signs, read a manifesto saying they ‘categorically’ rejected Madrid’s move to take control of the region; condemned its ‘repression’; and demanded the release of three Catalan leaders currently in prison in Spain.
They then formed a human chain around the 1,500ft perimeter of the government building in a symbol of defiance against Madrid – despite the fact that their ousted president has fled to Brussels.
Sacked local president Carles Puigdemont left the country after Spain’s top prosecutor called for him to be charged with rebellion, sedition and embezzlement.
The politician had vowed to defy Spanish authorities by turning up to work despite threats of arrest and even uploaded a picture of the presidential palace roof to Instagram, but never appeared.
Five other sacked members of the Catalan government are said to be with him in Belgium in what is being billed as a meeting with Flemish separatists.
The group fled from Spain to Marseille in the south of France by car to avoid being stopped by officials acting on orders from Madrid. They then flew on to Brussels.
But Mr Puigdemont and his fugitive ministers all intend to apply for asylum, Spanish media have reported. A decision on whether asylum will be granted is expected within the next five days.
It comes as thousands of anti-fascists wearing balaclavas and carrying black flags marched through Barcelona as part of a counter-demonstration against far-right protests held in the city and Madrid yesterday.
Despite Mr Puigdemont being out of the country thousands of protesters rallied in his home town of Girona, reading a manifesto the rejected the takeover of power by Madrid and calling for jailed separatist leaders to be freed
Carles Puigdemont, the ousted president of Catalonia, fled to Brussels on Monday morning as Spain’s top prosecutor called for him to be charged with rebellion, sedition and embezzlement
Mr Puigdemont had threatened to defy Madrid’s orders by turning up to work on Monday and even tweeted a picture of the parliamentary palace, though never appeared
The demonstrations came as Mr Puigdemont’s lawyers said he might not attend a court hearing in Madrid and branded the calls for him to be charged with rebellion and sedition as ‘absurd’
Carme Forcadell, Speaker of the Catalan parliament, was filmed arriving at work on Monday (above) where she announced the parliament would dissolve. She has also been ordered to hand herself over to police
Catalan sustainability minister Josep Rull appeared to defy the government after tweeting this image of himself at work, though he was seen leaving the parliamentary palace a short time later
Journalists and protesters had gathered outside the presidential palace on Monday in expectation of Mr Puigdemont’s arrival, before it emerged he had fled the country
Pro-independence protesters had expected Mr Puigdemont to lead the government in defiance of Madrid, but were instead left angry and disappointed as he fled
Unionists waving Spanish and EU flags celebrated the news of Mr Puigdemont’s departure with banners reading ‘victory’
The Catalan regional police were stationed around the palace on Monday. Ministers were told they would be allowed to clear their desks, but would be arrested if they tried to carry out their duties
Mr Puigdemont and Ms Forcadell were told to turn themselves over to police, while officers were warned not to arrest them
Madrid sacked the head of the Catalan police after triggering article 155 to revoke the powers of the regional government
What happens now?
Carles Puigdemont and other Catalan leaders have been ordered to appear in court after Spain’s top prosecutor called for charges against them.
The charges – including rebellion, sedition, provocation by regional officials and misuse of public money – will be considered by a judge who will decide whether or not to file them.
It is understood the leaders will not be arrested unless they miss the court hearing, which could be as soon as tomorrow, or try to carry out their official duties.
They will be allowed into the parliament in Barcelona, but only to collect their possessions.
Mr Puigdemont is currently in Brussels where he is believed to be with five of his ministers meeting with Flemish separatists.
It is thought he will apply for political asylum which would place him beyond the reach of authorities in Madrid.
Belgium’s foreign minister said it was ‘not unrealistic’ that Mr Puigdemont could be granted asylum, though he was later slapped down by Prime Minister Charles Michel.
The sacked leader, who is reported to be in a ‘safe place’ away from the media, is expected to give a speech on Tuesday clarifying why he left the country.
The Belgian foreign minister said on Sunday that it was ‘not unrealistic’ that Mr Puigdemont could be granted asylum if he faced arrest, though he was later slapped down by Prime Minister Charles Michel who said it was ‘absolutely not on the agenda’.
Former speaker Carme Forcadell, who is also facing charges alongside Mr Puigdemont, did arrive at her office in Barcelona but only to announce parliament would be dissolving.
The five ministers with Mr Puigdemont have been named as Meritxell Borras, the former minister for governance, public administration and housing, former health minister Toni Comin, former interior minister Joaquim Forn, former minister for employment Dolors Bassa and former agriculture, livestock, fisheries and food minister Meritxell Serret.
In another apparent climb down, Mr Puigdemont’s representative said his party would field candidates in the snap election on 21 December announced by Madrid. The party had said earlier that it did not respect the legitimacy of the election.
The Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, said that his plan for taking control of Catalonia was ‘going well’.
The extraordinary turn of events has shocked many in Catalonia, with unionists jubilant while many separatists reacted with a sense of anger and humiliation.
The activists, who held up blue pro-independence signs, read a manifesto saying they ‘categorically’ rejected Madrid’s move to take control of the region, condemned its ‘repression’, and demanded the release of three Catalan leaders currently in prison in Spain.
They then formed a human chain around the 1,500ft perimeter of the government building in a symbol of defiance – despite the fact that Mr Puigdemont was not there.
Meanwhile the mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, a political moderate, openly criticised the cloak-and-dagger way in which Mr Puigdemont handled the crisis, calling on him to explain himself and ‘finish with this uncertainty’.
Sustainability minister Josep Rull had earlier tweeted a picture of himself at his desk, but was seen leaving the building a short time after.
Two police officers entered and left the building in central Barcelona, followed by Rull himself.
Meanwhile a leading Spanish journalist claimed the army is ready to intervene in Catalonia if necessary.
Eduardo Inda, director of online news website OKDiaro.com and a regular on Spanish political and current affairs programmes, told broadcaster La Sexta that soldiers would be mobilised to protect airports, ports and nuclear power stations if they came under threat.
Once charges have been officially laid against the ministers, it is expected they will be ordered to appear at a court hearing as early as Tuesday.
It is understood that they will not be arrested unless they miss the hearing, which will likely see bail set and assets seized.
Thousands of anti-fascist protesters on the streets
An army of anti-fascist demonstrators have been seen marching through Barcelona this evening in response to far-right protests in the city yesterday.
Protesters dressed in black with their faces covered by scarves were heard shouting ‘neighbours, wake up, there are Nazis at your door’ and ‘Nazis go’ as they walked in a huge crowd.
Riot police are also at the scene as they attempt to keep the anti-fascists separate from a nearby nationalist rally in the city.
It comes after a protest in Barcelona yesterday saw men lashing out at a line of police officers as video footage showed dozens of protesters making Nazi salutes in Madrid.
Ministers are being allowed into parliament but only to collect their belongings and have been told they will be arrested if they try to perform their official duties.
Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido said the government was giving the separatist politicians ‘a few hours’ of time because the goal was ‘to recover normality in a discreet way and under the principle of minimal intervention’ from central authorities.
Zoido is also hosting a meeting in Madrid with the new head of the Catalan police and other officials in the home affairs department of the troubled region.
The meeting with the Mossos d’Esquadra commissar Ferran Lopez, who was number two in the forces’ hierarchy until last week, comes three days after Spain’s central authorities begun to directly manage affairs in Catalonia.
On Saturday, the sacked Catalan leader issued a televised statement in which he vowed to come to work on Monday unless he was ‘forcibly prevented’, and called on civil servants to ‘peacefully resist’ efforts by Madrid to take over the levers of power in Catalonia.
After a day of violence, Nazi salutes and amid the massive unionist demonstrations on the streets of Barcelona on Sunday, Spanish anti-fascist groups marched in a counter-demonstration this evening.
Spanish officials organised a unionist march through central Barcelona on Sunday in which they claimed more than a million people took part to resoundingly reject Catalonia’s declaration of independence.
During the protests in Barcelona, men were seen lashing out at line of police officers and a second video from Madrid showed dozens of protesters gathered in a group and making Nazi salutes.
The crowds chanted that Carles Puigdemont, the sacked Catalan leader, should be sent to prison for declaring independence.
Other videos show gangs chanting ‘Viva Franco’ – a nod to Spain’s former dictator General Francisco Franco.
Protesters also shouted obscenities about Catalan journalists, who they accuse of twisting the facts and selling fake news.
Thousands were chanting, ‘this time we are going to vote,’ declaring their intention to make their presence felt at the ballot box on 21 December rather than boycott the poll, as they did during the October 1 referendum.
Tensions ran high around the presidential palace after violent scenes on the streets of Barcelona on Sunday when Nazi-saluting unionists clashed with police
Spanish officials organised a unionist march through central Barcelona on Sunday in which they claimed more than a million people took to the streets to resoundingly reject Catalonia’s declaration of independence
Hundreds of thousands of unionist protesters marched through central Barcelona to resoundingly reject Catalonia’s declaration of independence
A shirtless man with the words ‘Spain’ and ‘155’ – in reference to the implementation of the article 155 in Catalonia region – is seen after the rally in Catalonia
A woman challenges Catalan Mossos d’Esquadra regional police officers in Barcelona after Sunday’s march
Thousands were chanting, ‘this time we are going to vote,’ declaring their intention to make their presence felt at the ballot box on 21 December rather than boycott the poll, as they did during the October 1 referendum
Protesters sing the Spanish national anthem as the pro-unity demonstration went on into the evening
One protester draped their dog in a Spanish flag as they attended the march on the streets of Barcelona
Demonstrators protest in front of a van belonging to Catalonia broadcaster TV3. Protesters also shouted obscenities about Catalan journalists, who they accuse of twisting the facts and selling fake news
A woman shouts out during a demonstration organised by Spanish officials who claim more than a million people turned up
Nationalist activists protest with a giant Catalan flag during a mass rally against Catalonia’s declaration of independence, in Barcelona, Spain, on Sunday
Nationalist activists march with Catalan, Spanish and European Union flags during a mass rally against Catalonia’s declaration of independence
A Spanish flag waves as a million Catalan pro-union demonstator march along the Paseo de Gracia avenue in Barcelona
Thousands of Catalan supporters taunt Real Madrid fans as Ronaldo’s side is beated 2-1 by Girona
Catalonia won a historic victory over Spain on the football pitch today as the upstart Catalan team Girona beat Cristiano Ronaldo’s side 2-1 at home.
In a game that was charged with political significance, both sides chanted slogans about Catalan independence, with frenzied home fans flying the Catalan flag and Madrid supporters waving the Spanish colours.
Giant killers Girona, who only won promotion to Spain’s top league for the first time this season, handed out a merciless defeat to Real Madrid, who came out second best in tonight’s David and Goliath clash.
Thousands of local supporters taunted Madrid fans, claiming that this was a victory for Catalonia over Spain.
In a further layer of symbolism, sacked Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, lives in Girona and was previously mayor of the town, which has a population of under 100,000.
Cristiano Ronaldo looks dejected after Girona scores in a match that saw Real Madrid lose 2-1. Thousands of local supporters taunted Madrid fans, claiming that this was a victory for Catalonia over Spain
He was due to attend the crunch match but was forced to pull out minutes before kick-off amid security concerns. Officials said he watched the match on television and was said to be ‘very happy’.
The action unfolded as up to a million Spanish unionists took to the streets of Barcelona an hour away, marching to reject Catalan independence.
Girona has never before in its history qualified for Spain’s highest league.
Ecstatic fans celebrated both inside the stadium and in the nearby town while large numbers of riot police were deployed to deal with potential disturbances.
Girona’s goals were scored by Uruguayan striker Cristhian Stuani in the 53rd minute and Portu five minutes later, while Real Madrid scores first with a strike by midfielder Isco Alarcón in the 12th minute.
After the match, the sacked Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont tweeted in jubilation: ‘congratulations and keep it up!’
It was the first time Mr Puigdemont has used Twitter in two days.
More than a million unionist protesters marched through central Barcelona today to resoundingly reject Catalonia’s declaration of independence. The crowds, draped in thousands of Spanish flags and singing ‘Viva España’, chanted that Carles Puigdemont, the sacked Catalan leader, should be sent to prison for declaring independence
Thousands were chanting, ‘this time we are going to vote,’ declaring their intention to make their presence felt at the ballot box on 21 December rather than boycott the poll, as they did during the October 1 referendum
A man holds up a placard which roughly translates to, ‘What about the star? It’s running away’, with the star on the Catalan flag replaced with a skull and crossbones
Catalan independence parties appear to be losing their parliamentary majority ahead of December’s election, according to a poll.
The poll was taken from last Monday to Thursday, just as Spain’s central government was preparing to take control of the region, which then made a unilateral declaration of independence on Friday.
Pro-independence parties were seen as taking 42.5 percent of the vote while anti-independence parties would win 43.4 percent, according to the poll of some 1,000 people surveyed by Sigma Dos and published in the anti-independence newspaper El Mundo.
The wafer-thin margin between the two sides predicts a hard-fought campaign to December’s ballot.
Senior Spanish politicians led today’s protest, including Albert Rivera, a congressman from Madrid, alongside the leaders of all the Catalan unionist parties.
Why were the Spanish fascists chanting ‘viva Franco’ in Barcelona?
Franco led a military coup against Spain’s democratic Republic sparking the 1936-39 Spanish Civil War.
During his subsequent 36-year dictatorship, Franco quashed any perceived opponents and even suppressed all other languages besides Castilian Spanish, such as Catalan, Basque and Galician.
Only after his death in 1975 was Spain able to take its first tentative steps towards democracy.
Officials who organised the huge unionist demonstration in Barcelona today declared that the total number of people attending the rally was 1.3million, though there is no official figure.
Organisers said the goal of Sunday’s march’s was to defend Spain’s unity and reject ‘an unprecedented attack in the history of democracy’.
Leaders of rival pro-union parties from the ruling conservatives, the pro-business liberals and the socialists joined together under the slogan ‘We are all Catalonia. Common sense for co-existence!’
Grassroots group Societat Civil Catalan called for those who oppose Catalonia breaking away to march at noon. Demonstrators, many waving Spanish, Catalan and European Union flags, flooded a central boulevard.
Societat Civil Catalana president Alex Ramos said: ‘We have organised ourselves late, but we are here to show that there is a majority of Catalans that are no longer silent and that no longer want to be silenced.’
Madrid today ordered the Catalan police to remove all portraits of sacked president Puigdemont from their police stations.
It comes as the Spanish central government continues its crackdown on the region.
The chief of Catalan police, Josep Trapero, was removed from his post yesterday for perceived hostility to Spanish authorities.
Protesters wave Spanish and Catalan Senyera flags from the top of a building during a pro-unity demonstration in Barcelona on October 29, 2017
Catalan unionists line the streets of Barcelona waving Spanish and Catalonian flags as well as the EU banner as part of today’s protest
Catalan President Carles Puigdemont and Vice President Oriol Junqueras, left, attend a parliamentary session at the Catalan parliament in Barcelona, Spain, Thursday. Oriol Junqueras said, ‘The president of the country is and will remain Carles Puigdemont,’ writing in Catalan newspaper El Punt Avui
Belgium’s Secretary of State for Asylum and Migration Theo Francken who said of offering Puigdemont asylum: ‘It is not unrealistic if you look at the situation’
Sacked Catalan President Carles Puigdemont embraces a supporter during a walkabout the day after the Catalan regional parliament declared independence from Spain in Girona, Spain, on October 28
People wave Spanish and Catalan flags as they take part at a demonstration to support Spanish National Police and Civil Guard agents who are located at Barcelona’s port in Barcelona. The city is braced for more protests today
Catalan regional vice president and chief of economy and finance Oriol Junqueras. Notably, Junqueras signed the article ‘Vice President of the government of Catalonia’
What are they going to do… kill us all? Catalan’s defiant call as Spanish government tightens its grip on the region
Catalonia’s sacked president Carles Puigdemont has vowed to resist the Spanish government’s attempts to snatch control of his region as tensions rose over its dramatic breakaway bid.
The nationalist leader – facing possible charges for sedition – promised to continue ‘working to build a free country’.
His provocative move came just hours after Spain’s prime minister Mariano Rajoy formally stripped Catalonia of its autonomy, sacked the region’s police chief and called fresh regional elections for December.
Rajoy is seeking to solve the country’s biggest constitutional crisis since the 1981 coup attempt by imposing direct control.
It remains to be seen if local officials will accept the Spanish government’s attempt to impose its will or continue to recognise Puigdemont’s authority. Activists say they will form human chains around government buildings.
‘What are they going to do: kill all of us,’ asked one member of a Left-wing separatist group.
‘If the Spanish police start to fight us it will be our victory, although no one wants this violence.’
Fears that the huge demonstration would descend into violence were realised following ugly scenes in Barcelona on Friday where separatists were beaten up in the street by pro-Spanish gangs.
In the hours following the declaration of independence, journalists were forced to barricade themselves in their offices to escape a baying mob and teenagers hid in a community centre as unionist thugs went on the rampage.
And a pro-Spanish motorcycle parade roared through the city yesterday afternoon, prompting smiles and gestures of support from the majority of Catalans who polls have suggested do not to want independence from Spain.
As Barcelona once again was taken over by a day of protest, Belgium has weighed in on the debate, saying it might grant the Catalan president asylum if he is likely to be arrested.
Granting Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont political asylum in Belgium would be ‘not unrealistic’ if he asks for it, the Belgian migration minister said, underlining his country’s position as a contrarian voice in the Spanish standoff.
The Madrid government sacked the Catalan leader and dismissed the region’s parliament on Friday, hours after it declared itself an independent nation.
Spain’s constitutional court has also started a review of Catalonia’s independence vote for prosecutors to decide if it constituted rebellion.
While there was no indication Puigdemont was hoping to come to Belgium, the country is one of few members of the European Union where EU citizens can ask for political asylum.
‘It is not unrealistic if you look at the situation,’ Belgium’s migration minister, Theo Francken, told Belgian broadcaster VTM.
‘They are already talking about a prison sentence,’ Francken, a member of Flemish nationalist party N-VA, said.
‘The question is to what extent he would get a fair trial.’
It would be difficult for Spain to extradite Puigdemont in such a case, he said.
Yesterday afternoon unionists honked their horns and sang pro-Spanish songs in the first significant anti-separatist protest since independence was declared on Friday and Madrid took over direct control of the Catalan government
Hundreds of bystanders reacted with smiles and cheers, with many punching the air and waving Spanish flags in response as the motorcade went past
There was a palpable sense of relief as the quiet majority of pro-unionist Catalan bystanders saw their voices expressed in public after independence supporters have dominated he narrative of recent days. Pictured: Attendees of the protest
The riders were accompanied by at least 100 cars who supported he rally by flying flags, sounding horns and playing Spanish songs from their radios
What happens now?
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy sacked Catalonia’s government including regional president Carles Puigdemont and his deputy Oriol Junqueras and assumed direct control over the region.
Central government ministries will assume directly the powers of the Catalan administration until a regional election takes place on Dec. 21.
It is not clear whether a snap regional election will resolve the crisis.
An opinion poll published by the El Periodico newspaper on Sunday showed a snap election would probably have results similar to the last ballot in 2015, when a coalition of pro-independence parties formed a minority government.
Other opinion polls have shown Catalonia is almost evenly split between pro- and anti-independence supporters.
Catalonia’s main secessionist groups have called for widespread civil disobedience. They also instructed civil servants not to obey orders from Madrid and respond with peaceful resistance. It is unclear whether such calls will be followed or not.
Use of force
Spain’s government said it was not planning to make any arrests, but it is unclear how it will proceed if the current regional administration staff refuse to leave their offices.
A growing number of analysts fear this could lead to a physical confrontation if national police, who used heavy-handed tactics to thwart an Oct. 1 vote on independence, seek to intervene.
One of the main problems over the implementation of direct rule will relate to Catalonia’s own police forces, the Mossos d’Esquadra.
Rajoy said the Mossos chief would be fired.
But a group of Mossos favouring independence has already said they would not follow instructions from the central government and would not use force to remove ministers and lawmakers from power.
Several officers told Reuters they believed the 17,000-strong force was split between those who want independence and those who oppose it.
The Mossos, whose chief is under investigation on suspicion of sedition, will have to act on direct orders from their new bosses. If deemed necessary, Mossos officers may be replaced by national police.
The Economy Ministry has already increased its control over regional finances, to block the use of state funds to organise the secession bid, and started paying directly for essential services.
Under the new proposal, Madrid will take full financial control.
Many companies have however said on condition of anonymity that they feared a new Catalan treasury could start levying taxes, and that they would seek to move their tax base outside Catalonia.
It is also possible that some pro-independence Catalans will stop paying their taxes to the Spanish treasury.
The Spanish government had initially said it would control widely watched Catalan public television TV3, but it eventually dropped that plan.
The media is likely to play an important role in the run-up to the new election in Catalonia.
Amid the protest, the sacked Catalan president ‘is and will remain’ the president of the regional government, his deputy said Sunday, and rejected what he called a ‘coup d’etat’ by Madrid.
Oriol Junqueras said, ‘The president of the country is and will remain Carles Puigdemont,’ writing in Catalan newspaper El Punt Avui after the central government seized the regional executive’s powers following a vote by lawmakers to declare independence from Spain.
‘We cannot recognise the coup d’etat against Catalonia, nor any of the anti-democratic decisions that the PP (Rajoy’s ruling Popular Party) is adopting by remote control from Madrid,’ he wrote.
Notably, Junqueras signed the article ‘Vice President of the government of Catalonia’.
Spain’s deputy prime minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria has been delegated the powers of the Catalan presidency after Madrid ousted Puigdemont.
Yesterday Puigdemont defied Madrid by vowing to go to work tomorrow as normal unless he is ‘forcibly prevented’ by the national police.
He called on his fellow Catalans to ‘peacefully resist’ attempts by the Spanish authorities to impose direct rule from Madrid in a television address from his hometown of Girona.
His words came after the country’s Prime Minister seized control of the regional government, replaced its ministers and sacked its police chief following the authority’s controversial declaration of independence.
Mr Puigdemont vowed to continue to ‘work to build a free country’ and urged viewers to behave with ‘calm and perseverance’, as well as maintaining a ‘sense of perspective’ in the tumultuous days ahead.
One senior official, Josep Rull, went one step further that Mr Puigdemont, saying that he intended to return to work ‘as a minister in the new Catalan Republic’.
In a speech to colleagues, he said: ‘Nelson Mandela said that a winner is a dreamer who never gives up… Never, never have we surrendered the challenge of leaving our children a better country.’
Yesterday afternoon the Spanish government said it would welcome Mr Puigdemont’s participation in regional elections it has called for December.
On Saturday officers cast a ring of steel around the region’s parliament in Barcelona as demonstrators took to the streets of Madrid in support of a united Spain.
The Catalan police chief Josep Trapero was removed from his post at around 4am on Saturday morning amid concerns that local police would resist the national force.
It came after unionists clashed with separatists in Barcelona on Friday night as tens of thousands of locals celebrated independence.
In one incident a pro-separatist radio station was attacked with journalists forced to barricade themselves inside.
Pope Francis today echoed Mr Puigdemont’s calls for calm and urged the EU to ‘recover the sense of being a single community’ in a speech at the Vatican, although he did not specifically refer to Catalonia.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has stripped Catalonia’s most senior police officials of their powers and taken control of its civil service, finances and public media ahead of snap local elections announced for December 21.
And Spain’s top prosecutor has warned that the local politicians responsible for the independence vote could face treason charges and up to 25 years in prison, with arrests planned for as early as Monday.
Yesterday morning thousands of unionists protesters took to Madrid’s Plaza de Colon as they called for Mr Puigdemont to be jailed.
And at around 5.30pm hundreds of motorcyclists draped in Spanish flags roared through Barcelona in a massive show of support for Madrid.
Bystanders reacted with smiles and cheers, with many punching the air and waving Spanish flags in response.
Mr Rajoy announced that he had sacked the local government on television Friday night, adding that ‘central government will assume the powers of the Catalonian administration’.
Speaking on Friday, he said: ‘Spain is living through a sad day. We believe it is urgent to listen to Catalan citizens, to all of them, so that they can decide their future and nobody can act outside the law on their behalf.
‘Today, the Catalonia parliament has approved something that in the opinion of a large majority of people not only goes against the law but is a criminal act.’
Mr Rajoy’s deputy Soraya Saenz de Santamaria has been put in charge of the Catalan government until the local elections.
She will coordinate other ministries that take over functions of Catalonia’s regional departments, including finances and security, and appoint officials to implement orders from Madrid.
Some among Catalonia’s roughly 200,000 civil servants have said they will refuse to obey orders from Madrid.
The prime minister’s announcement on Friday was met with jeers and whistles outside the government palace in Barcelona.
Spanish State Secretaries and undersecretaries attend a meeting at the State Secretary of Land Management to start undertaking their respective duties at the Catalan regional ministries after Madrid imposed direct control over the region
Catalan regional police stand guard the morning after the Catalan regional parliament declared independence from Spain
Regional police chief Josep Trapero was sacked amid concerns that local police would resist the national force as it imposes central government control on the region
Protesters in Madrid hold up a sign calling for Catalan regional president Mr Puigdemont’s imprisonment yesterday morning
Other protesters at the demonstration in the capital’s Plaza de Colon held signs saying: ‘No to the impunity of coup plotters’
The demonstration comes the day after the Catalan government was sacked for declaring independence following a controversial referendum
The unionist motorcycle parade reached the entrance of Barcelona port, where this man waved around a European Union flag
The demonstrators, pictured here at the end of the protest, were honking horns to show their solidarity with Spain’s national police, and opposition to the declaration of independence by Catalonia
The demonstrators, noisy but peaceful, headed towards the port, where reinforcements of national police and Spain’s Guardia Civil have been staying since they were deployed in the area before the illegal independence referendum
The independence flag of Catalonia is held up at Saturday’s La Liga football match between Athletic Bilbao and FC Barcelona
Revellers hold fireworks as they take part in a ‘Correfoc’, or ‘run with fire’, party in Cornella Llobregat, outskirts Barcelona
The traditional festival originates from medieval street theatre that represented the fight of good against evil through parades featuring fireworks and effigies of the devil
The declaration of independence comes after the region held an independence referendum on October 1 during which more than 800 people were hurt in clashes.
Trapero is already under investigation on charges of sedition after being accused of ‘preventing the application of laws’ during the controversial public vote.
He has already been replaced by Ferran López, who is seen by Madrid as a more compliant figure likely to work with central government.
Friday’s result sparked celebrations in the streets of Barcelona where separatists were seen drinking cava, the sparkling wine made in Catalonia, in the street.
But the declaration has failed to gain recognition from the international community.
British Prime Minister Theresa May condemned the decision as ‘illegal’.
While Germany, France, Italy and the USA also said they will not recognise a sovereign Catalonian state and nor will the EU.
On Friday the 28-nation bloc’s president, Donald Tusk, urged Spain not to descend into violence amid the tensions.
In contrast, Scotland’s SNP government said that it ‘respects and understands’ Catalonia’s vote for independence, and said Catalans ‘must have the ability to determine their own future’.
And in Berlin this afternoon pro-Catalan independence protesters were seen demonstrating outside the Brandenburg Gate.
The Spanish senate voted to impose direct rule on the region just 40 minutes after the Catalan parliament backed independence.
But before the vote in Barcelona, opposition parties stormed out of parliament in protest – with pro-independence MPs draping their empty seats with Catalan flags.
Spain’s king, Felipe VI, who has spoken out firmly against Catalan independence in the past, has cleared his diary for the week in order to focus on dealing with the emergency.
Independence was approved with 70 MPs in favour, 10 against and two blank ballots in the 135-member parliament.
Spain’s constitutional court has started a review of the independence vote held in Catalonia’s parliament, with the state prosecutor and other parties given three days to make allegations of wrongdoing.
After the vote, Catalan President Carles Puigdemont said: ‘Today our legitimate parliament, that came out of a democratic election, has taken a very important step. The legitimate representative of the citizens have followed the people’s mandate.
‘Now we are facing times when we will need to keep calm and peaceful and always keep dignity, as we’ve always done. Long live Catalonia!’
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.
Mr Trapero has been replaced by Ferran Lopez, pictured right with the Spanish Minister of Home Affairs Juan Ignazio Zoido. Lopez is seen by Madrid as a more compliant figure likely to work with central government
Catalonia’s police chief Josep Trapero, pictured earlier this month, was removed from his post at 4am yesterday morning
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy tonight sacked the Catalan government along with the region’s police chief and ordered elections for December 21 after a special Cabinet meeting to discuss his response to the crisis
The sacked Catalan president hugs a supporter in Girona. The politician vowed to continue to ‘work to build a free country’ in his televised speech this afternoon
Mr Puigdemont poses on a bridge in front of buildings displaying Catalan flags and pro-independence banners during his walkabout in Girona
Mr Puigdemont gives a thumbs up to dozens of supporters as he leaves a restaurant in Girona, a Catalan city around 50 miles from Barcelona, this afternoon
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.’
After the vote in Barcelona, MPs stood to chant the Catalan anthem while Puigdemont and his vice president, Oriol Junqueras, exchanged congratulatory embraces and handshakes.
Puigdemont added in his remarks after the vote: ‘It is the institutions and also the people who have to work together to help build a country.’
Reacting to the crisis, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker warned of ‘more cracks’ emerging in the EU.
The European Union will only deal with the central government in Madrid, according to the president of the European Council Donald Tusk.
‘For the EU nothing changes. Spain remains our only interlocutor. I hope the Spanish government favours force of argument, not argument of force,’ Tusk wrote on Twitter.
Antonio Tajani, who was appointed President of the European Parliament earlier this year, was similarly scathing, saying ‘nobody’ in the EU would recognise Catalonia as an independent country.
He later praised Spain’s decision to call a new election in Catalonia after the region’s unilateral declaration of independence, saying it was ‘the right thing to do.’
Catalan separatist flags are held up as fireworks go off in Sant Jaume Square in front of the Catalan regional government headquarters during celebrations on Friday night
The firework displays on friday took place after a day of fast-moving political developments and the situation remains tense into tonight
The government and Spain’s Constitutional Court have both said the secession bid was illegal, and after Friday’s independence vote, Rajoy said it was a move that ‘not only goes against the law but is a criminal act’
Violence flared on the streets of the Catalan capital on Friday night as furious unionists attacked Catalunya Radio, blaming journalists there for causing the independence declaration with their ‘fake news’
A unionist protester is searched by the Catalan police during the anti-independence demonstration on Friday night
Pro-independence supporters carry an ‘Estelada’ or independence flag in downtown Barcelona on Friday evening where thousands of people gathered
Catalan police stands preventing demonstrators from moving forward during a march against the unilateral declaration of independence approved by the region’s parliament on Friday
Anti-independence activists are prevented from moving forward by Catalan police as they marched through Barcelona on Friday night
Among the thousands of people waving Catalan flags were a significant number of protesters with Spanish ones, including this man, pictured
There was a heavy police presence as officers made sure a march against independence from Spain went ahead peacefully
Pro-independence supporters release fireworks and wave ‘estelada’ flags in the square outside the Palau Generalitat in Barcelona
There are fears the raucous scenes on the streets of Barcelona this evening could turn violent as passions run high over the independence debate
Rajoy’s announcement was met with jeers and whistles outside the government palace in Barcelona, where thousands have been celebrating the independence declaration
The declaration of independence was criticised by world leaders including Theresa May, who tonight said Britain ‘will not recognise’ Catalan independence as it was based on an ‘illegal’ vote. Pictured: Anti-independence protesters in Barcelona
The independence motion was passed in the 135-strong assembly with 70 votes in favour, 10 against and 2 blank ballots, the assembly’s speaker said. Pictured: A crowd in Barcelona reacts to the news on Friday
Former Ukip leader Nigel Farage said the declaration of independence had been caused by the ‘appalling behaviour’ of the Spanish Government who had pushed Catalonia ‘too far’.
He added: ‘This is going to turn into the EU’s most undesired nightmare.’
The main secessionist group in Catalonia, the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), called on civil servants to meet orders from Madrid with ‘peaceful resistance’.
Shares in Catalan banks fell sharply in response to the news – dragging the entire stock market with them.
CaixaBank, Spain’s third largest lender, fell by around five per cent while Sabadell, the country’s fifth biggest bank, fell roughly six percent.
Nearly 1,700 companies have moved their headquarters outside of Catalonia since the referendum.
The Ibex 35 stock index was down 1.3 percent on a day when most European markets rose. Spanish bonds were also down, but just slightly.
The market movements are modest, considering the momentous nature of the conflict. Catalonia accounts for a fifth of the Spanish economy, which is the fourth-largest in the 19-country eurozone.
Investors seem to believe the crisis will be resolved, though analysts say the risks are growing daily. Spain’s Senate in Madrid has approved measures for the central government to take direct control of Catalonia.
Stephen Brown, economist at Capital Economics, said: ‘We still think that the economic effects of this political crisis will be manageable.’
The Catalan parliament finally declared the region independent on Friday after Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy said he wants Spain to take direct control of Catalonia. Pictured: President Puigdemont voting
Before Friday’s vote, opposition parties stormed out of parliament in protest – with pro-independence MPs draped their empty seats with Catalan flags
Attention now turns to the government in Madrid, which has invoked article 155 of the constitution, dismantling Catalonia’s autonomy. Pictured: Jubilant Catalans celebrate the news
The Spanish prime minister – pictured at Friday’s cabinet meeting – wrote on Twitter immediately after the vote: ‘I ask all Spaniards to remain calm. The rule of law will restore legality in Catalonia’
Prime Minister Rajoy presides over an extraordinary cabinet meeting that was called this afternoon at Moncloa Palace in Madrid
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’. Pictured: Puigdemont with his wife on Friday
Legislators from both parliamentary groups in Catalonia have a slim majority which allowed them to pass the motion during a vote on Friday. Pictured: Puigdemont arriving at the parliament on Friday
Catalan President Carles Puigdemont and Vice President Oriol Junqueras, left, chat during the session inside the Catalan parliament in Barcelona on Friday
Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and his wife Marcela Topor arriving at the Catalan parliament in Barcelona on Friday
The senate, where Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s Popular Party holds a majority, met to vote on steps to depose Catalonia’s secessionist government before the week is out. Pictured: Spain’s PM arriving in Parliament on Friday morning
Catalan secessionists have already registered a motion with their parliament to proclaim independence from Spain though it is unclear whether the text would be put to a vote, newspaper La Vanguardia said. Pictured: Rajoy in the senate on Friday
Speaking to the senate, Rajoy (pictured being applauded by lawmakers) 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 unprecedented move could spark violence or push the rebel region’s parliament to declare independence. Pictured: Rajoy being applauded in the senate on Friday morning
The invocation of Article 155 has resulted in the whole Catalan goverment being dismissed. Pictured: Rajoy speaking to the senate on Friday, urging lawmakers to adopt the measure
A member of the Catalan parliament who is opposed to independence holds a ‘No’ ballot during the independence voting session
Opponents of Catalan independence shouted across the wooden benches in the parliament, while those in favour sung the national anthem after the outcome of the vote was announced
This opponent of independence held a Spanish flag during the heated session in the Catalan parliament on Friday
On Thursday afternoon in the Catalan town of Girona, supporters of the region’s independence bid removed the Spanish national flag from the town hall building and replaced it with the Catalan regional flag.
Video footage filmed in Girona, northeast of the regional capital of Barcelona, showed a crowd cheering ‘out, out, out with the Spanish flag!’ shortly after Catalonia’s parliament voted to declare an independent republic.
Speaking to senators on Friday, 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 approved 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.’
MPs from the opposition Socialists and Citizens parties, who walked out before the vote, had announced earlier that they would boycott the vote.
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, said before the vote. ‘We can only hope that the conflict remains in the political realm.’
A socialist lawmaker in the parliament lambasted the separatists for bending national and regional laws to move toward declaring independence before the vote and vowed to work ‘for the return of legality to public institutions.’
Catalan President Carles Puigdemont said he will not call a snap election during a statement at the Palau Generalitat in Barcelona on Thursday
Catalonian could explode into violence this morning as the Spanish parliament is due to seize control of the rebel region in a bid to end its struggle for independence. Pictured: Angry protesters in Barcelona on Friday
Catalan independence supporters gathered outside the Parliament of Catalonia ahead of the vote to call for independence from Spain – a demand they were soon granted
Thousands of protesters in Barcelona cheer in response to the news that the Catalan parliament has voted to declare independence from Spain
Rajoy’s cabinet enaacted measures to take control of Catalonia during a special meeting. Pictured: Protesters in Barcelona before the vote in parliament
People cheer as they watch on giant screens in Barcelona as the Catalan parliament votes in favour of the region’s independence from Spain
After the vote, Puigdemont said: ‘Today our legitimate parliament, that came out of a democratic election, has taken a very important step.’ Pictured: Champagne is broken open in celebration of the declaration
People celebrate after Catalonia’s parliament voted to declare independence from Spain in Barcelona, the region’s capital
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
There are fears the developments could lead to violence as Spain attempts to impose rule on the rebellious region. Pictured: A delighted woman celebrates the news in Barcelona
The European Union will only deal with the central government in Madrid, the president of the European Council Donald Tusk said in response to the news. Pictured: Champagne flowing in the streets of Barcelona
Thousands of Catalans gathered outside the parliament building (pictured in the centre) and cheered and danced after the motion passed
A young woman reacts outside the Catalan parliament in Barcelona after the news filters out to the crowd watching the parliamentary session in the street
Spokesman Eva 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 opposed to 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 the vote.
He 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.’
Waving Catalan flags and chanting ‘independence’ and ‘freedom,’ thousands of 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.
Several hundred Catalan town mayors also joined in a chant for ‘Independence!’ inside Catalonia’s regional parliament building ahead of Friday’s vote.
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.’
Spain is expected to send its own representatives to rule the region for as long as the ‘exceptional situation’ persists, Rajoy said on Friday.
It would also mean that Catalonia’s police force, public broadcasters and parliament would come under the direct control of the central government.
Tensions: University students caused chaos after calling a ‘strike’ to demonstrate the Spanish government’s looming revoking of Catalan autonomy, but it saw lectures cancelled and others prevented from entering university grounds
Catalonia’s regional government met on Thursday night to debate its next move before Madrid carries out a threat to start revoking its powers from Friday morning
Mr Puigdemont sat glumly as he listened to the debate, while outside supporters of independence branded him a ‘traitor’
Supporters of independence gathered outside the parliament building where they listened to the debate on their phones
Marchers who took to the streets of Barcelona on Thursday sat outside the parliament building ahead of another march planned for 10am on Friday
Mario Rajoy, Spain’s Prime Minister, is pictured (second left) on a banner which reads ‘Republic’. He has taken a firm line against Catalonian independence, accusing Mr Puigdemont of holding an illegal referendum
Catalonia since the referendum: A timeline of the crisis
October 1: Violence-hit referendum
Hundreds of thousands of Catalans vote in an independence referendum held despite a court ban deeming it unconstitutional.
Spanish riot police try to block the vote. Shocking footage emerges of them using batons and rubber bullets on crowds and roughing up voters.
The Catalan government says 90 percent of those who voted backed independence, but turnout was only 43 percent as many who oppose a split boycotted the poll.
October 3: General strike
A strike disrupts Barcelona’s port, transport and some businesses. Up to 700,000 people demonstrate in the city against police violence.
King Felipe VI accuses Catalan leaders of threatening Spain’s stability and urges the state to defend “constitutional order”.
October 5: Business exodus
Banco Sabadell, Catalonia’s second largest bank, announces it will shift its registered domicile out of the region. About 1,700 companies follow suit.
October 7-8: Mass protests
Tens of thousands of people demonstrate across Spain on October 7, some demanding unity, others dialogue. The next day hundreds of thousands march in Barcelona to back unity.
October 10: ‘Suspended’ independence declaration
In a move sparking confusion, Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont and his separatist allies sign a declaration of independence, but say they are suspending its implementation to allow for time for negotiations with Madrid.
The next day, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy gives Puigdemont until October 16 to clarify his stance.
October 16: Separatists detained
Puigdemont refuses to clarify whether he had declared independence and instead calls for dialogue. Madrid gives him an extended deadline of October 19 to say whether he is planning to secede.
A court orders the leaders of two powerful grassroots independence groups, Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sanchez, to be detained pending an investigation into sedition charges.
October 21: Spain to sack Catalan government
Rajoy announces drastic steps to halt the breakaway, employing previously unused constitutional powers under Article 155 to seek the dismissal of Puigdemont’s government and new regional elections.
Puigdemont accuses Rajoy of “the worst attack on institutions and Catalan people” since Spain’s dictatorship and turns down an invitation to address the Senate to state his case for independence.
October 26: No regional elections
Puigdemont says he considered calling elections to stave off the central government’s takeover bid, but received “no guarantees” to make this possible.
October 27: Takeover vs independence
Catalan lawmakers approve a motion by 70 votes to 10 to declare an independent republic, a narrow majority in the 135-member assembly, as many opposition members walk out. Independence supporters stage mass street celebrations
The Senate grants Madrid powers to impose direct rule on Catalonia.
Rajoy announces he has dissolved the Catalan parliament and formally removed Puigdemont and his executive from office. He calls regional elections for December 21.
October 28: Madrid fires police chief
Spain moves to assert direct control over the region, formally removing top officials including Puigdemont and Josep Lluis Trapero, the chief of Catalonia’s regional police, the Mossos d’Esquadra.
Thousands of people in Madrid gather under a giant Spanish flag to protest Catalonia’s independence declaration.
Puigdemont calls for “democratic opposition” to direct rule.
October 29: Pro-unity Barcelona rally
Hundreds of thousands of flag-waving protesters rally in Barcelona, chanting “Viva Espana!” and urging national unity while demanding “Prison for Puigdemont.”
October 30: Puigdemont’s party to stand in election
Facing Spanish prosecutors charges for rebellion, Puigdemont is said to be in Brussels. Meanwhile his party says it will stand in the December 21 regional election called by the central government.
Opposite sides: The rival leaders
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy
The 62-year-old leader of the conservative Popular Party (PP) has served as Spain’s Prime Pinister since December 2011.
With a reputation as a political survivor, Rajoy is known for his strategy of playing for time to wear down his foes.
He began a second term last November after the left tore itself apart during 10 months in which Spain had no government following inconclusive elections.
He now heads a minority government backed by the centrist Ciudadanos, founded in Catalonia as an anti-independence party.
The premier’s detractors accuse him of failing to stop separatist sentiment from surging in Catalonia. Some say he even encouraged it after his party successfully pushed for the partial annulment of a 2006 statute of Catalan autonomy.
That statute, negotiated with the then-ruling Socialists, had given the region expanded powers and described Catalonia as a ‘nation’ within Spain.
Many Catalans viewed the episode as a humiliation.
Rajoy argues he could not give his approval for a Catalan independence referendum because it violates Spain’s constitution, which declares the country indivisible.
He told parliament Wednesday that suspending Catalonia’s autonomy was ‘the only possible response’ to Puigdemont’s independence push – a move some fear could spark unrest.
Catalan President Carles Puigdemont
The 54-year-old conservative president of Catalonia, a former journalist, has advocated for independence since his youth.
The former mayor of Girona became head of the regional government in January 2016, replacing fellow conservative Artur Mas who was mistrusted by far-left separatists.
Puigdemont is under pressure from hardcore separatists to declare independence in defiance of the central government.
The separatist leadership says voters who took part in a banned secession referendum on October 1 overwhelmingly backed breaking away from Spain.
But turnout was just 43 per cent as Catalans in favour of remaining in Spain mostly boycotted the ballot, which did not meet international standards.
On Thursday Puigdemont ruled out fresh regional elections as a way to ease the crisis and left it up to Catalonia’s regional parliament to decide whether to proceed with a declaration of independence.
He also warned in a letter to the Senate that the crisis will escalate if Madrid takes over Catalonia’s powers.
Puigdemont has said he is willing to go to jail over his separatist drive.
He is under investigation for alleged civil disobedience.
He is also being investigated for abuse of office and misuse of public funds for staging the plebiscite.
Catalan president Carles Puigdemont (right) and Catalan regional vice president and chief of economy and finance Oriol Junqueras attend a session at Catalan parliament on Thursday evening
Hands up: Students gesture as they march during a protest against the Spanish government announcement of implementing the article 155 in Catalonia
Voices: Protesters demonstrate during a Catalan pro-independence strike of university students in Barcelona, Spain
A snap regional election could defuse Spain’s deepest political crisis in decades – sparked by the October independence referendum in Catalonia which Madrid has branded ‘illegal’ – but so far the President has decided not to
Decision time: Carles Puigdemont ‘s wife Marcela Topor, pictured together in January at a fashion show in Barcelona
Still no answer: Spain has demanded that Puigdemont withdraws his ‘suspended’ declaration of independence, but he has not yet chosen to do so
Judgement day: Puigdemont is seen with Deputy President, Oriol Junqueras, left, and regional Presidency minister, Jordi Turull, right as they make their way to take part in the weekly regional cabinet meeting in Barcelona, on Tuesday
Spain could turn into the next bloody Balkans: How political tension could spill over into violence
By Mark Almond for the Daily Mail
Spain’s Catalan crisis has stopped simmering and boiled over as, after weeks of dithering, the regional parliament voted to declare independence.
The reaction of the national government in Madrid was immediate – and unprecedented, revoking Catalonia’s autonomy and approving measures that allow it to impose direct rule over the region, at least until a new regional government is elected.
It raises the prospect of the feared civil guard and even the army being deployed as thousands of pro-independence voters last night took to the streets to celebrate.
If ever there was a time for cool heads, it is now. But even as the Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy was appealing for calm, some Catalans were threatening a campaign of civil disobedience in the event of a crackdown by Madrid.
Now a battle of wills that could turn ugly is on the cards. There are few in Spain who do not fear a looming confrontation between the Mossos, the local Catalan police committed to protecting their political leaders and public buildings, and forces from Madrid trying to suppress secession.
The risk of violence should not be underestimated. Think back to the break-up of Yugoslavia in 1991.
Few thought that Serbs, Croats, Bosnian Muslims and Kosovo Albanians would sink to the level of the brutal civil wars which wrecked the Balkans, but once blood is shed – even by accident – emotions can rapidly get out of hand.
No one knows how many of Catalonia’s 7.5million inhabitants truly want to break with Spain. In the illegal referendum earlier this month that triggered the present crisis, more than 90 per cent voted to leave. But only about 43 per cent of the population actually voted. Many pro-Spanish Catalans boycotted it.
However, it is clear that a vocal and dedicated group are determined now that their ‘nation’ should be independent, the autonomous powers it has enjoyed for decades are no longer enough.
Living in Spain’s richest region, Catalans have long been resentful at seeing so much of their taxes disappear to Madrid to ‘subsidise’ – as they see it – the rest of the country. But economics are only part of the crisis.
The Catalan sense of ‘self’ is ferociously strong – they are defined by their own language, culture, cuisine and a long tradition of defying Madrid. Catalan identity has been permitted to flourish only since the death of the dictator Franco in 1975, and of course Spanish politics continues to be haunted by the civil war fought by Franco’s Nationalists against the Republicans in the 1930s.
The fact that their great-grandparents and grandparents fought against Franco, while the PM Mariano Rajoy’s family sided with the dictator, is not lost on the Catalans today.
As for the EU, it has shown itself insensitive to the interests of small regions. Brussels and member governments of the EU, including our own, have said from the start that they won’t recognise a breakaway Catalonia which will not be allowed to join the EU or keep the euro.
The tenacity of Madrid as it contemplates a possible break-up is a key factor in the dangerous days and weeks ahead.
Again, there are historical lessons. Madrid lost control of Gibraltar to Britain in 1704, but more than 300 years on still lays claim to the Rock.
Even in the unlikely event of Catalonia managing some kind of functioning independence without open conflict with Spain, the fact remains that Madrid can block its access to the EU and other international bodies, so that the self-proclaimed state will effectively be under siege.
Prime minister Rajoy has called an election for the Catalans on December 21 – but this time it will be the Catalan nationalists who stay away.
At the very least a tug of war, if not violence, is coming fast to Catalonia.
No one in Spain seems able to act as an honest broker – certainly not King Felipe who, perhaps unwisely, has intervened to side with Madrid – while its partners in the EU refuse to do so.
What Spain needs now is friends to help mediate and calm things down.