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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 September 2018

Catalan votes for independence as Madrid approves direct rule 

History is made as Catalan parliament votes in favour of starting the constituent process to split from Spain

Catalan has voted to declare Independence. REUTERS/Yves Herman
Catalan has voted to declare Independence. REUTERS/Yves Herman

Loud cheers erupted from the crowds of pro-independence supporters gathered outside of the parliament building in Barcelona as the result was announced.

The move was was backed 70-10 in a ballot boycotted by opposition MPs.

Celebrants shouted "We are free!" as jubilation swept through the crowds.

Shortly after the vote, Madrid's Senate approved the imposition of direct rule on Catalonia. The government maintains that the process carried out in Catalonia is illegal and unconstitutional.

The Catalan parliament's vote is unlikely to be recognised internationally, with European Council President Donald Tusk saying "nothing changes" for the EU.

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May and France's President Emmanuel Macron have both said they support Spanish unity in response to the independence referendum.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy called for all Spaniards to remain calm, promising to "restore legality" to Catalonia. Mr Rajoy wants to dismiss Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont, his vice-president and all regional ministers.

He will be chairing a reactionary extraordinary cabinet meeting within hours.

There is a possibility for events to turn violent if Madrid attempts to forcibly remove Mr Puigdemont. Passionate pro-Independence supporters have said they will surround parliament or any building which their leader is in to create a human shield and prevent his arrest.

Speaking after the vote results and Madrid's approval of direct rule, Mr Puigdemont asked for calm and dignity, saying: "this is in our hands, in your hands, to strengthen all the fundamental principles that make Catalonia a very old nation in Europe with its own culture and language.

"Mainly we want to build a society in the same line that we have always been - responding to democratic principles in a civic way.

"Long live Catalonia!".

The Spanish prime minister has said he was calling for exceptional measures because there was no other choice and said "law, democracy and stability" needed to be returned to Catalonia.

This morning saw Mr Rajoy successfully defend in the Senate the reasons for the invocation of Article 155 of the Constitution in Catalonia, which will see the region’s powers of self-government curtailed.

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It has never before been invoked in democratic Spain. The article is only two paragraphs long and does not outline rules for implementation.

It is not clear how quickly Madrid will move now they have gained the Senate's approval.

The decision to press for the abolition of the Catalan leadership, impose direct rule and push for elections within six months comes three weeks after the controversial independence referendum took place.

The vote, which was ruled illegal by the supreme court, saw 90 per cent of the 43 per cent of Catalans who took part in the poll ask for independence.

Two-thirds of the region’s mayors defied the Spanish courts to help organise the referendum and thousands risked criminal charges by working as volunteers or hiding ballot boxes in their houses.

However, many anti-independence supporters boycotted the ballot and claimed it was not valid.

What is Article 155?

Article 155 of the Spanish constitution allows the national government to impose direct rule over Spain's semi-autonomous regions if there is a crisis. It does not suspend the autonomy of Catalonia, which is guaranteed in Spain’s constitution and the Statute of Autonomy, but it allows the government to take special measures to force the region to adhere to its constitutional obligations.

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