Catalans vote for independence but Spain imposes rule

Two men, aged 31 and 32, have been reported injured so far amid fears that the true number may be higher. It happened as about 17,000 people celebrated Catalonia’s independence in Barcelona’s main square.

A gang of unionist thugs tried to attack the Catalan police away from the celebrations but when this failed, they took out their rage on a middle-aged bystander.

In another incident, teenagers engaged in extra-curricular activities at a cultural centre barricaded themselves in as a baying mob gathered outside.

A video showed teenagers fleeing in terror into the building as unrest was sparked outside, with thugs shouting, spitting and waving Spanish flags.

Tensions flared in Barcelona tonight as pro-Spanish gangs attacked Catalans as they celebrated the declaration of independence.

The unrest comes after Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy tonight sacked the Catalan government along with the region’s police chief and ordered elections for December 21.

Video emerged showing masked nationalists throwing punches in the street, knocking a middle-aged man to the ground in central Barcelona.

The cultural centre tweeted confining the violence, saying that two teachers were injured but all he children were unhurt.

A local radio station was also attacked as unionists expressed their anger, accusing the station of spreading fake news. Journalists were forced to barricade themselves inside for several hours until police regained control.

Rajoy said at around 7.30pm UK time: ‘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.’

The announcement was met with jeers and whistles outside the government palace in Barcelona, where thousands have been celebrating the independence declaration.

Video emerged showing masked nationalists throwing punches in the street, knocking a middle-aged man to the ground in central Barcelona

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

Catalan police stands preventing demonstrators from moving forward during a march against the unilateral declaration of independence approved earlier by the region’s parliament

A unionist protester is searched by the Catalan police during the anti-independence demonstration on Friday night

Violence flared on the streets of the Catalan capital as furious unionists attacked Catalunya Radio, blaming journalists there for causing the independence declaration with their ‘fake news’

Pro-independence supporters carry an ‘Estelada’ or independence flag in downtown Barcelona this evening where thousands of people gathered

A new regional election will be held in Catalonia on December 21, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said in a televised address on a day of high drama. Pictured: Independence supporters in Barcelona

Catalan separatist flags are held up as fireworks go off in Sant Jaume Square in front of the Catalan regional government headquarters during celebratrions

The firework displays 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’

Anti-independence activists are prevented from moving forward by Catalan police as they marched through Barcelona tonight

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

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’. Pictured: Crowds cheer in response to the declaration of independence

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.

Germany, France, Italy and the USA also tonight said they will not recognise it either and nor will the EU but its President Donald Tusk warned Spain against violence.

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’.

Spain’s top prosecutor has warned that those responsible for the vote could face treason charges and up to 25 years in jail, with arrests planned for as early as Monday.

What happens now?

Direct rule 

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.

Civil disobedience 

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.

Public media

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.

The Spanish senate voted to impose direct rule on the region by passing article 155 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.

Catalan President Carles Puigdemont could face treason charges as early as Monday, Spain’s prosecutor announced today – speaking under condition of anonymity in line with internal rules.

This evening, Spain’s king, Felipe VI, who has spoken out firmly against Catalan independence in the past, 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 vote held in Catalonia’s parliament to declare independence, with the state prosecutor and other parties given three days to make allegations of wrongdoing.

After the vote, 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.

Thousands of Catalans gathered outside the parliament building and cheered and danced after the motion passed.

Some celebrated by drinking Cava, the sparkling wine produced in Catalonia, and hugged each other.

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, a society…’

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 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.

Germany said it supported the Spanish government in its dispute with separatists in Catalonia and hoped both sides would de-escalate the situation through dialogue.

‘The German government does not recognise such a declaration of independence,’ a spokesman said, adding that Berlin supported the ‘clear position’ of Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in his bid to restore calm and order.

French President Emmanuel Macron said Rajoy had his ‘full support’ in enforcing the law in Catalonia as Madrid readies to take direct control of the rebellious province.

‘I have one partner in Spain, that’s Prime Minister Rajoy… the rule of law prevails in Spain, with constitutional rules.

‘He wants to ensure they are respected and he has my full support,’ Macron told reporters on the sidelines of a visit to the overseas territory of French Guiana.

The US State Department said Catalonia is an integral part of Spain and backed the Spanish government’s measures to keep the country united.

The Scottish government, meanwhile, said it respected the position of the Catalonian regional government that declared independence from Spain on Friday.

‘We understand and respect the position of the Catalan Government,’ Scottish Cabinet Secretary for External Affairs Fiona Hyslop said.

‘While Spain has the right to oppose independence, the people of Catalonia must have the ability to determine their own future,’ she said.

‘Today’s Declaration of Independence came about only after repeated calls for dialogue were refused.’

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.’

There are fears the developments could lead to violence as Spain attempts to impose direct rule on the rebellious region.

The main secessionist group in Catalonia, the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), called on civil servants not to follow orders from the Spanish government after Madrid authorised direct rule over the region.

The ANC called on Catalan civil servants to respond 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.

The Catalan parliament has finally declared the region independent after Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy said he wants Spain to take direct control of Catalonia. Pictured: President Puigdemont voting today

Before the 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 today’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 Mayor 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 today

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 today

Catalan President Carles Puigdemont and Vice President Oriol Junqueras, left, chat during the session inside the Catalan parliament in Barcelona

Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and his wife Marcela Topor arriving at the Catalan parliament in Barcelona earlier today

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 this 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 today in the senate

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 this morning

The invocation of Article 155 has resulted in the whole Catalan goverment being dismissed. Pictured: Rajoy speaking to the senate today, 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 earlier today

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.’

World reaction to the crisis

European President Donald Tusk has backed the Spanish government while issuing a warning to its officials urging them against the use of force.

Mr Tusk said Madrid ‘remains our only interlocutor’, but its officials must ‘favour force or argument, not argument of force’.

Theresa May said Britain ‘will not recognise’ Catalan independence as it was based on an ‘illegal’ vote.

France and Germany also swiftly closed ranks behind Rajoy and European Parliament chief Antonio Tajani tweeted that ‘nobody in the EU will recognise’ the Catalan declaration.

Senior EU officials have been candid in their opposition to Catalan independence, warning of a domino effect in a continent with numerous separatist movements from Britain to Belgium to Romania.

European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker warned Friday that the 28-member bloc ‘doesn’t need any more cracks, more splits’ during a trip to French Guiana in South America.

The US State Department said Catalonia is an integral part of Spain and backed the Spanish government’s measures to keep the country united.

Earlier today 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 this afternoon, 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’.

It comes after the region held an independence referendum on October 1 that the Spanish government deemed illegal and during which over 800 people were hurt in clashes.

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.’

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.

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 yesterday

Catalan independence supporters gathered outside the Parliament of Catalonia earlier today 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

Carrizosa 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.’

The spokesman for the radical-left secessionist CUP party said Catalonia was poised to exercise what separatists call the Spanish region’s right to self-determination.

Carles Riera of CUP says ‘Today we are ready to make a historic step. Today we become a political entity with right to self-determination and we are exercising it.’

Spain vowed to stop any attempt at secession.

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 earlier today.

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 yesterday.

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 that goes ahead 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 referendum.

October 3: General strike.

A general strike called by unions and political groups disrupts Barcelona’s port, transport and some businesses. Up to 700,000 people demonstrate in the city against police violence, defending the right to vote.

King Felipe VI accuses Catalan leaders of threatening Spain’s stability and urges the state to defend ‘constitutional order’.

October 5: Business exodus begins.

Banco Sabadell, Catalonia’s second largest bank, announces it will shift its registered domicile out of the region. More than 1,600 companies follow suit in a bid to minimise instability.

October 7-8: Mass protests.

Tens of thousands of people demonstrate across Spain on October 7, some demanding unity, others demanding dialogue.

The next day hundreds of thousands march in Barcelona to back unity with Spain.

October 10: ‘Suspended’ independence declaration.

In a move that sparks widespread 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 say 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.

Their detention prompts tens of thousands to protest in Barcelona the following night.

October 21: Spain to sack Catalan government, force elections.

Rajoy takes drastic steps to stop Catalonia breaking away, employing previously unused constitutional powers to seek the dismissal of Puigdemont’s government and new elections for the Catalan parliament. The Senate has to approve the measures.

Some 450,000 people join a separatist protest in Barcelona, with Puigdemont accusing Rajoy of ‘the worst attack on institutions and Catalan people’ since Spain’s dictatorship.

October 25: Puigdemont declines Senate meeting.

Puigdemont turns down an invitation to address legislators in the Spanish Senate to state his case for independence, with a source saying he declined because Madrid ‘has already announced that it will implement Article 155 no matter what’.

Puigdemont then calls an urgent brainstorming meeting with his cabinet and pro-independence civil groups.

October 26: No regional elections, says Puigdemont.

In a highly-anticipated address to the nation, Puigdemont says he considered calling elections to stave off the central government’s takeover bid, but received ‘no guarantees’ to make this possible.

In the hours before Puigdemont’s announcement, there had been feverish speculation that he would dissolve parliament and announce elections in a bid to keep Madrid at arm’s length.

October 27: Takeover v. independence.

In Rajoy’s presence, Spanish senators meet to adopt drastic measures to seize control of Catalonia.

Rajoy asks the Senate for the go-ahead to depose Puigdemont and his executive in a bid to stop their independence drive.

In response, Catalan separatist parties file a resolution in the regional parliament in which they seek declare independence from Spain.

‘We declare Catalonia an independent state in the form of a republic,’ reads the start of the draft motion crafted by separatist lawmakers, which hold a majority in the regional parliament that may later proceed to a vote.

Thousands of activists gather outside the Catalan parliament to add their voice to the push for a break with Spain.

Puigdemont yesterday ruled out a snap election over fears it would trigger violence. He was seen holding hands with his wife as he entered the regional parliament today.

Puigdemont revealed he considered calling elections in an effort to ease the separatist crisis as Madrid prepares to seize control of the region.

But he decided not to because ‘abusive’ Madrid did not offer enough ‘guarantees’ that they would not take over control of Catalonia.

In a televised statement, he said it was now ‘up to the (regional) parliament’.

The regional leader also justified the decision not to hold an election by saying he believed it would spark more violence after the October 1 independence referendum descended into chaos.

It is believed he also changed his mind because of huge divisions within his pro-independence coalition government.

The crisis has split Catalonia and caused deep resentment around Spain. It has also prompted a flight of business from the wealthy region and alarmed European leaders who fear the crisis could fan separatist sentiment around the continent.

France’s Suez, the top water provider in Spain, has temporarily moved the legal registration of its offices in Catalonia to Madrid because of legal uncertainty related to Catalonia’s independence movement.

‘We have temporarily moved the registered office of Agbar, which is the (Suez) holding company in Catalonia, to Madrid in order to protect the legal certainty of investors, because what we see now in Catalonia is uncertainty,’ Chief Financial Officer Christophe Cros said on an earnings call.’

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.

Puigdemont yesterday 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.

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.

Huge numbers of independence supporters marched through Barcelona yesterday, blocking several streets as they headed to the government palace after students at the local university went on ‘strike’.

The three-day strike by students at the Autonomous University of Barcelona saw dozens of protesters block entry to facilities in protest of the political crisis, with hundreds of others prevented from attending lectures as a result.

Access was restricted by protesters resulting in students struggling to get in the education facility after commuting from the nearby railway station of Cerdanyola del Valles.

There were reports of clashes between picketing students and those wanting to attend lectures, as well as threats made on social media by protesters.

A professor who teaches economics at the university said: ‘There is always trouble when a strike is called.

‘They have let us teachers pass, but if you wanted to remove the chairs it is the usual mess. It makes me crazy, they justify what they do, but you are not allowed to speak.’

The unnamed professor said numerous classes had been suspended as a result of the protests.

A law professor added: ‘There was a mess because many students wanted to come in and argued with the picket because they wanted to pass, but the picket did not change its attitude.

He added that of the ‘hundreds of students who usually attend each day’, only 50 made it inside.

Catalans are fiercely protective of their language, culture and autonomy – restored after the 1939-75 dictatorship of Francisco Franco.

Fears for Catalonia’s economy have increased as uncertainty persists over the independence drive, with some 1,600 companies having moved their legal headquarters out of the region in recent weeks.

Catalonia accounts for about 16 percent of Spain’s population and a fifth of its economic output.

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

Real Madrid heading to Catalonia as crisis escalates

Real Madrid face Catalan club Girona on Sunday amid heightened tensions in the northeastern region, which is seeking independence from Spain. Pictured: The side playing Fuenlabrada yesterday

Real Madrid are trying to keep the focus on football as it travels to Catalonia to play a Spanish league match this weekend.

Madrid face Catalan club Girona on Sunday amid heightened tensions in the northeastern region, which is seeking independence from Spain.

It will be Madrid’s first trip to Catalonia since the crisis escalated.

Madrid, seen as the club of the Spanish establishment, have reportedly taken precautions ahead of its trip, including not using its official team bus, but it has tried hard to distance itself from the political turmoil.

‘We’ll play our game without thinking about anything else,’ Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane said. ‘I’m not going to ask the fans for anything. We’re thinking about the game. We hope it’s a good match and nothing more than that.’

He said players are not concerned about their safety during the trip to Girona, a city filled with pro-independence sentiment just north of Barcelona.

‘We’re not worried about Catalonia because security will be as it always is,’ Zidane said.

Reports in Spain said there was a possibility that the game could be called off because of the situation in Catalonia, but the club was not yet making and drastic changes to its travel plans.

Madrid faced Catalan club Espanyol in Madrid on the day of the independence referendum, when the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium was packed with fans carrying Spanish flags and showing their support of a unified country.

Madrid rival Barcelona have been deeply involved in the Catalonia issue. It has publicly defended the region’s right to choose, but it did not openly advocate independence. A unilateral declaration of independence would create problems for the club because it wants to keep playing in the Spanish league.

Barcelona played its league match against Las Palmas without fans at the Camp Nou to protest against the Spanish government’s actions during the referendum. Pro-independence flags and chants have always been present at Camp Nou, and they have intensified in recent weeks.

There were no problems when Barcelona traveled to the Spanish capital to face Atletico Madrid a few weeks ago, although the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium was also filled with Spanish flags.

Barcelona leads the Spanish league with 25 points from nine matches, four points more than second-place Valencia. Defending champion Madrid is five points off the lead, and Atletico Madrid is further point behind.

Barcelona play at Athletic Bilbao on Saturday.

The Catalan parliament is due to meet to discuss Spanish government’s plans to remove the leaders of the regional government in a session today, which may extent to Friday

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.

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