Catalonia’s regional parliament declared its independence from Spain in a disputed vote Friday, triggering the central government to activate its direct rule over the region.
In an acrimonious vote, separatist lawmakers approved a motion saying they are establishing an independent Catalan Republic with 70 votes in favor, 10 against and two blank ballots.
“Today the parliament fulfilled the long-desired and fought-for step … in the days ahead we must keep to our values of pacifism and dignity. It’s in our, in your hands, to build the republic,” Catalan President Carles Puigdemont said afterwards.
In Madrid, A majority of senators gave Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy the go-ahead to apply unprecedented constitutional measures, including firing Puigdemont and his Cabinet and curtailing Catalan parliamentary powers.
Speaking outside the senate, Rajoy said what happened in Catalonia was “proof” that invoking Article 155 was “necessary.” He called the parliament’s independence vote “illegal” and a “delinquent act.”
The Catalan motion calls for beginning an independence process that includes drafting Catalonia’s new top laws and opening negotiations “on equal footing” with Spanish authorities to establish cooperation.
It was boycotted by opposition lawmakers who left the chamber in protest. Outside, thousands of pro-independence Catalans cheered as the results were announced.
In a tweet soon after the results were announced, Rajoy called for “tranquility” in the Catalan region and promised “the rule of law will restore legality.”
Spain’s central government opposes the independence bid and it is readying measures to take over control of the northeastern region. No country has expressed support for the secession bid.
The U.S. State Department called Catalonia an “integral part of Spain” and said it supports the Spanish government’s efforts to keep the nation “strong and united.”
European Council President Donald Tusk said it would continue to only deal with Spain.
“For [the EU] nothing changes. Spain remains our only interlocutor. I hope the Spanish government favors force of argument, not argument of force.”
A spokesman with Spain’s prosecutor office, meanwhile, said the prosecutor would seek rebellion charges for those responsible for the Catalan independence vote.
The prosecutor was looking to determine if only the Catalan cabinet, including Puigdemont and Junqueras, will be charged, or if the target that would also include members of the parliament’s governing board and lawmakers, the spokesman said on condition of anonymity following internal rules.
He said the charges could be brought as early as Monday.
Under Spanish criminal law, rebellion can be punished by up to 25 years in prison, with shorter penalties if the rebellion doesn’t lead to violence.
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.
Catalonia represents a fifth of Spain’s gross domestic product. Polls show its 7.5 million inhabitants are roughly evenly divided over independence.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.