Catalonia’s parliament declared independence from Spain on Friday, a historic vote that set the breakaway region on a collision course with the central government and courted international isolation.
Madrid, armed with Senate approval for imposing direct rule in the northeastern region, vowed to “restore legality” in Catalonia, raising fears of a broad crackdown that could spark shows of civil disobedience.
What was already Spain’s gravest constitutional crisis in its nearly four decades of democracy boiled over into greater uncertainty, even amid rejoicing in Barcelona, the regional capital.
Cheers erupted inside and outside the ornate Catalan parliament building after the vote result was read — a nearly unbroken series of “Si, si, si.” The final tally was 70 yes, 10 opposed and two blank ballots.
The opposition had walked out in protest moments earlier.
“Long live Catalonia!” the region’s president, Carles Puigdemont, told the packed chamber, where some lawmakers brushed away tears.
In brief remarks, the Catalan leader called on supporters to hew to “peaceful, dignified” behavior.
But the dramatic vote also laid bare deep divisions over independence. During parliamentary debate, an anti-secessionist lawmaker, Carlos Carrizosa, tore up a copy of the proposed declaration and castigated the other parliamentarians.
“You leave those Catalans who don’t follow you orphaned, without a government,” he told them.
The Catalan parliament’s motion calls for the start of an independence process that includes the drafting of new regional laws and envisions the start of negotiations “on equal footing” with Spanish authorities.
In Madrid, a dramatically opposing scenario played out only moments after the Catalan parliamentary vote. Spain’s Senate voted to trigger Article 155 of the Spanish constitution, effectively authorizing a central government takeover of the region. .
That move had been telegraphed for days by the central government but took on heightened, even ominous significance with the independence declaration.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who has long denounced the region’s independence drive as illegal, coupled an appeal for nationwide order with what appeared to be a veiled threat.
“I call on all Spaniards to remain calm,” he said on Twitter. “The rule of law will restore legality to Catalonia.”
Spain called an urgent Cabinet meeting to weigh the government’s response, which was expected to include seeking a ruling against the Catalan declaration from Spain’s constitutional court. The court already had called Catalonia’s Oct. 1 independence referendum illegal.
The constitutional provision triggered by Spanish lawmakers gives the central government broad powers to act against any region that is in grave breach of the law. In addition to removing the Catalan leadership and dissolving parliament, Madrid could assert authority over the region’s finances and police force.
In one portent of potential confrontation, the Spanish prosecutor’s office said it could seek charges of rebellion against those behind the vote, including Puigdemont, his top deputies and perhaps lawmakers as well.
In Barcelona, the scene outside the parliament building was one of jubilation after the parliamentary vote, with an enormous crowd cheering wildly and shouting: “We’re a republic!”
Huge street celebrations erupted, with people toasting each other with Champagne poured into plastic cups. Revelers sang the Catalan national anthem “Els Segadors,” or “The Reapers,” which celebrates a 17th century independence bid.
But some in Catalonia greeted the news with foreboding. Less than half of the electorate turned out for the Oct. 1 independence referendum, even though the result was overwhelmingly in favor of secession.
“What scares me is that they will shut down the government and parliament,” said government worker Nuria Carre. “We’ll see what happens tomorrow, if Puigdemont and the rest of the government are in jail.”
Catalonia’s 7.5 million people face huge challenges — including the fact that no country is offering recognition of their republic.
Powerful European leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron sided with Rajoy in rejecting the independence push. And the U.S. State Department, in a pointed statement of support for its NATO ally, the Madrid government, said “Catalonia is an integral part of Spain.”
An independent Catalonia would not automatically receive European Union membership, and the bloc has been leery of the secession push, not wishing to encourage separatist movements elsewhere.
Fear of civil unrest and lack of EU membership already has resulted in the flight of hundreds of corporations from Catalonia, with more likely to follow.
Earlier, Rajoy told Spanish lawmakers that Catalan secessionists had left his government with no choice but to take drastic measures to quell the region’s independence drive.
“In my opinion, there is no alternative,” Rajoy told the Senate, repeating Spain’s longstanding assertion that unilateral efforts to secede are unconstitutional. He called Catalan leaders’ actions a “mockery of democracy.”
For many in the region, independence was a long-held dream. Carre, the Catalan government worker, described the reaction of her 88-year-old mother in the Catalan province of Tarragona, who had cast a yes vote in the referendum.
“She kept saying it would never happen,” Carre said. Told of the vote, the elderly woman cried out in Catalan, “Visca la republica!”