International

Spain in crisis after Catalan independence vote

The Spanish Prime Minister has dissolved Catalonia's parliament and called an election after the region finally declared independence.

Mariano Rajoy invoked the emergency measures in response to Catalan MPs voting to break away from the Spanish state.

He said he would seek to declare the vote illegal.

Mr Rajoy said central government departments would take over functions from the regional parliament.

The chief of Catalonia's regional police force, Josep Lluis Trapero, has been sacked. His dismissal was signed off by Spanish Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido.

Video:Cheers as Catalonia declares Spain split

:: What next for Spain?

Last week, Spain's High Court banned Mr Trapero from leaving the country and seized his passport as part of an investigation into sedition, although he was not arrested.

Prosecutors claim he failed to give orders to rescue national police trapped inside a building in Barcelona during protests last month.

In an effort to defuse tensions, the regional police force – known as Mossos d'Esquadra – urged members to behave in a neutral manner if they were called on to evict disputed leader Carles Puigdemont and his government.

The Spanish government is also shutting down Catalonia's foreign affairs department and dismissing its delegates in Brussels and Madrid.

Regional elections will be held on 21 December.

A boy waves a Catalan flag as people celebrate at the Sant Jaume square in Barcelona on October 27, 2017. Catalonia's parliament voted to declare independence from Spain and proclaim a republic, just as Madrid is poised to impose direct rule on the region to stop it in its tracks. A motion declaring independence was approved with 70 votes in favour, 10 against and two abstentions, with Catalan opposition MPs walking out of the 135-seat chamber before the vote in protest at a declaration unlikely
Image:Independence supporters in Sant Jaume Square celebrated the declaration

Mr Rajoy said it was important to call fresh elections to ensure "nobody can act outside the law", but added "we never wanted to come to this point".

He said the aim was to return Catalonia to "normality and legality" as soon as possible.

:: Catalonia crisis hots up as both sides take the nuclear option

Spain arrived at the constitutional crisis after officials in the northeatern region held an illegal independence referendum on 1 October.

Catalan separatist flags are held up as fireworks go off in Sant Jaume Square
Video:Will Catalonia create a domino effect?

The vote was marred by violence as national police intervened, but Catalan leaders said more than two million people turned out and that 92% wanted to break from Spain.

After independence was declared on Friday, thousands turned out to celebrate outside the Catalan government palace.

President Carles Puigdemont (R) is hugged by the  Minister of Health Antoni Comín
Image:Disputed Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont could face decades in jail

They watched events inside from two giant screens as they clapped and shouted "independence" in Catalan.

The motion, which was boycotted by opposition parties, said Catalonia was an independent, sovereign and social democratic state, and called on other countries and institutions to recognise it.

Catalan attitude to independence is positive on the streets
Video:Break-up of Spain 'not our problem'

However, after the announcement from the Catalan parliament, Mr Rajoy hinted that their celebrations would be short-lived by saying they had done "something that is not possible – declare independence".

The supporters who had gathered in Sant Jaume Square in Barcelona to hear the Catalan declaration were told of Mr Rajoy's decision to sack the region's parliament.

A band took to the stage and the crowd defiantly began singing and dancing to music, shouting: "We are not moving."

Meanwhile, hundreds of anti-separatist protesters took to the streets waving Spanish flags to demonstrate against the independence declaration.

Anti-separatists also took to the streets after the declaration
Image:Anti-separatists also took to the streets after the declaration

Miquel Iceta, the leader of Catalonia's Socialists, welcomed Mr Rajoy's announcement of a new election.

In a tweet, he said: "In the most sad day due to a wrong and irresponsible decision by the separatists, we see a ray of light."

The UK, Germany and France are among European powers to throw their weight behind Spain's prime minister.

"It is based on a vote that was declared illegal by the Spanish courts," said Downing Street.

"We continue to want to see the rule of law upheld, the Spanish constitution respected, and Spanish unity preserved."

Catalonia has its own distinct culture and language that was suppressed under the Franco regime, and independence supporters say the wealthy region contributes far more to Spain's economy than it gets back.

If the Spanish government does not act robustly against Catalonia's independence bid some fear other regions, such as the Basque country and Galicia, could also launch a renewed push to break away.

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