The Madrid government sacked Catalonia’s president and dismissed its parliament on Friday, hours after the region declared itself an independent nation in Spain’s gravest political crisis since the return of democracy four decades ago.
Although the referendum endorsed independence, it drew only a 43 percent turnout as Catalans who oppose independence largely boycotted it.
The independence push has caused deep resentment around Spain. The chaos has also prompted a flight of business from Catalonia and alarmed European leaders who fear the crisis could fan separatist sentiment around the continent.
Catalonia is one of Spain’s most prosperous regions and already has a high degree of autonomy. But it has a litany of historic grievances, exacerbated during the 1939-1975 Franco dictatorship, when its culture and politics were suppressed.
In Barcelona, Jordi Mercade, a 32-year-old engineer celebrating with friends, said he had mixed feelings about the day’s events.
“It’s a day for history but many of us here also know we are not independent. They have the force. We are proud to having declared independence but we know this is not something definitive.”
It is not certain whether the new election can resolve the crisis, as it could increase the numbers of independence supporters in parliament.
Also unclear is how Rajoy’s other measures will work on the ground, because of the reactions of civil servants and the regional police, know as the Mossos d‘Esquadra, who are reported to be divided in their loyalties.
The main secessionist group, the Catalan National Assembly, called on civil servants not to follow orders from the Spanish government and urged them to follow “peaceful resistance”.
“Tensions are likely to rise significantly over the coming days,” Antonio Barroso of Teneo Intelligence said in a note.
“Demonstrators might try to prevent the police from removing Catalan ministers from their offices if the central government decides to do so. This increases the risk of violent clashes with the police.”
A big crowd of independence supporters gathered outside the regional parliament in Barcelona, shouting “Liberty” in Catalan and singing traditional songs as the independence vote went through.
Among them was Monica Sanz, 44, a university lecturer who wore a Catalan flag around her neck.
“We tried all peaceful means. Moderate people have reached this point because it was impossible to make an agreement with Spain,” she said.
The motion, passed after a passionate debate from advocates and opponents of independence, said Catalonia constituted an independent, sovereign and social democratic state.
Lawmakers from members of three national parties – the People’s Party, the Socialists and Ciudadanos – walked out before the vote. Members of the pro-independence parties and the far-left Podemos then voted 70-10 in favour, in a secret ballot aimed at hindering any attempt by Madrid to lay criminal charges on them.
The soon-to-be-sacked Puigdemont left the chamber to shouts of “President!” and mayors who had come from outlying areas brandished their ceremonial batons and sang the Catalan anthem “Els Segadors” (The Reapers).
“Catalonia is and will be a land of freedom. In times of difficulty and in times of celebration. Now more than ever”, Puigdemont said on Twitter.
But within an hour, the upper house of Spain’s parliament in Madrid authorized Rajoy’s government to rule Catalonia directly. Spain’s constitutional court started a review of the vote for prosecutors to decide if its constituted rebellion.
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.
Spain’s IBEX fell as much 2.1 percent to a four-day low during the day, 10-year government bond yields hit a day high, and the euro dipped against the dollar on Friday after the Catalan independence declaration. The region contributes about a fifth of Spain’s economy, the fourth-largest in the eurozone.
JP Morgan said that due to the uncertainty, it was lowering its forecast for Spain’s GDP for the last quarter of 2017 and first of 2018 to below the 3.5 per cent seen so far this year.