(CN) – Catalonia’s regional parliament on Friday apprvoved a motion saying they are establishing an independent Catalan Republic, dramatically escalating Spain’s territorial crisis.
Separatist lawmakers erupted in applause as the vote was approved with 70 votes in favor of independence, 10 against and 2 blank ballots.
Most opposition lawmakers left the chamber in protest moments before the vote.
The measure approved Friday calls for beginning an independence process that includes drafting Catalonia’s new top laws and opening negotiations with Spanish authorities to establish the ground rules for a new, “equal” relationship between the two governments.
Spain’s Senate responded by authorizin the government to apply constitutional measures to take control of the government of Catalonia.
A majority of senators gave Spanish Prime Minister the go-ahead Friday to apply unprecedented measures including sacking Catalan regional President Carles Puigdemont and his cabinet. It also authorized him to curtail Catalan parliamentary powers.
In an impassioned address, Spain’s prime minister on Friday urged the country’s Senate to grant the special constitutional measures allowing the central government to take control of Catalonia’s autonomous powers so it could halt the region’s independence bid.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who received rapturous applause before and after his speech in the Senate in Madrid, told the chamber Spain was facing a challenge not seen in its recent history.
What is happening in Catalonia is “a clear violation of the laws, of democracy, of the rights of all, and that has consequences,” he said.
Rajoy said the government’s first move would be to dismiss Catalan President Carles Puigdemont and his regional ministers if the Senate approves the Spanish government’s use of Article 155 of the Constitution in a vote later Friday.
The special measures, he said, were the only way out of the crisis, adding that Spain isn’t trying to take away liberties from Catalans but instead protect them.
About 500 mayors of Catalan towns chanted “independence!” and raised their ceremonial wooden staves in a hall inside the regional parliament building shortly before the parliamentary session began.
Ramon Moliner, the mayor of Alp, in the northern Pyrenees region, said Friday was a historic day. “We are beginning a new chapter as a country, a very uncertain stage in many ways but very exciting,” he said.
Some opposition lawmakers in the prosperous region say they will boycott the move.
If Rajoy’s measures were granted, it will be the first time in four decades of democratic rule that the Madrid-based national government would directly run the affairs of one of Spain’s 17 semi-autonomous regions, a move that will likely fan the flames of the Catalan revolt.
As lawmakers headed to the regional parliament in Barcelona, large crowds of independence supporters gathered outside in a park, waving Catalan flags and chanting slogans in favor of a new state being proclaimed.
“I am here today because we will start the Catalan Republic,” said 68-year-old protester Jordi Soler. “Today is the last chance,” he said, noting that Puigdemont had offered to negotiate with Spain’s central government, “but Madrid is starting with total repression and there is no longer any (other) option.”
Rajoy says the measures to take over Catalan affairs are aimed at restoring order and has promised to call a new regional election once that is achieved.
Puigdemont scrapped hopes of a possible end to the political deadlock on Thursday when he opted not to call an early election himself and halt the drift toward independence.
The parliamentary sessions in Madrid and Barcelona are likely to last several hours before each votes on their resolutions.
Rajoy’s conservative Popular Party has an absolute majority in the Senate, thus guaranteeing the approval of his proposals. But he has also sought support from the country’s main opposition parties. It will then be up to the government when to implement them.
Catalonia represents a fifth of Spain’s gross domestic product. Polls show its 7.5 million inhabitants are roughly evenly divided over independence.
Parra reported from Barcelona. Elena Becatoros and Joseph Wilson in Barcelona contributed.