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Spain vs Catalonia crisis reaches boiling point

Catalan separatists demanding independence from Spain
Catalan separatists demanding independence from Spain

The move is meant to block Catalonia’s push for independence, an unprecedented move that takes Spain’s worst political crisis in four decades to a new level.

The upper house of Spain’s parliament, the Senate, was meeting to approve Article 155, the law that will allow the central government to take over the autonomous region.

In Catalonia’s main city Barcelona, separatist leaders were figuring out their next move, which could include a unilateral declaration of independence, as supporters gathered in the streets.

“Exceptional measures should only be adopted when no other remedy is possible,” Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said in an address to the Senate. “In my opinion there is no alternative. The only thing that can be done and should be done is to accept and comply with the law.”

The Catalan leadership was ignoring the law and making a mockery of democracy, he said. “We are facing a challenge unprecedented in our recent history,” said Rajoy, who has staked out an uncompromising position against Catalonia’s campaign to break away from Spain.

The crisis has split Catalonia and caused deep resentment around Spain - national flags now hang from many balconies in the capital in an expression of unity.

It has also prompted a flight of business from the wealthy northeastern region and alarmed European leaders who fear the crisis could fan separatist sentiment around the continent.

A vote in the Senate was expected by 12:00 GMT. Rajoy was then expected to convene his cabinet to adopt the first measures to govern Catalonia directly. This could include sacking the Barcelona government and assuming direct supervision of Catalan police forces.

But how direct rule would work on the ground - including the reaction of civil servants and the police - is uncertain. Some independence supporters have promised to mount a campaign of civil disobedience, which could lead to direct confrontation with security forces.

What could happen in the regional parliament of Catalonia was also unclear.

Catalan president Carles Puigdemont on Thursday ruled out a new regional election that might break the deadlock and said it was now up to the parliament to act on a mandate to break from Spain following an independence referendum on Oct. 1.

Barcelona, crowds of independence supporters were swelling on downtown streets, shouting “Liberty” in the Catalan language and singing traditional Catalan songs. “I‘m worried, I‘m nervous like everybody. But freedom is never free,” said Jaume Moline, 50, musician.

Montserrat Rectoret, a 61-year-old historian, said: “I am emotional because Catalonia has struggled for 40 years to be independent and finally I can see it.”