BARCELONA - The Catalan regional parliament voted for independence from Spain Friday by approving a resolution to convene a constitutional assembly to form a sovereign republic. The move was accompanied by applause and embraces between lawmakers present, who sang the Catalan anthem.
The resolution to secede from Spain was drafted and presented by the more radical separatist factions of the regional coalition headed by Catalonia President Carles Puigdemont, and it passed by 70 votes in favor, 10 against and 2 blank votes.
Spain's ruling center-right Popular Party and the mainstream opposition socialists, who hold just under half the seats in the Catalan parliament, boycotted the session.
Friday’s resolution by the Catalan regional parliament ends a period of uncertainty over Catalan independence that has prevailed since an Oct. 1 referendum on independence that won 90 percent of the vote in a 50 percent voter turnout.
Puigdemont has held back from declaring independence for fear of triggering direct rule by the central government, which has been moving to take over the region's finances, police services, and key infrastructure and administrative bodies, including publicly financed TV and broadcast media.
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“It was very astute on the part of Puigdemont to let parliament vote on independence resolution prior to declaring it, as it gives him certain legal cover,” a former senior member of the Spanish parliament told VOA.
Puigdemont could face a 25-year prison sentence for sedition. The central government already has jailed two separatist leaders and is prosecuting other officials accused of using public resources to support the independence bid.
Immediately following the Spanish senate vote to impose direct rule on Catalonia, the government issued an official bulletin announcing that Puigdemont and his Vice President Orio Junqueras had ceased to be the heads of the Catalonian regional government.
Rajoy reportedly set to move
Spanish official sources consulted by VOA say Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is preparing to appoint a close aide of Catalan origin to head a centrally administered regional government, and he has set Dec. 21 as the date for regional Catalan elections.
Spain’s Senate responded to Catalonia’s independence move by approving the application of constitutional article 155, which officially authorizes the central government to suspend Catalan authorities and take over the region’s administration.
“The turn of events ... has left us with no recourse but the application of constitutional prerogatives to reinstitute the legal order in Catalonia,” said Spain’s senate president.
Rajoy appealed for national “calm” and called together a special cabinet meeting for later Friday.
“The government will take whatever measures are necessary. We will not allow a group of people to liquidate the country.” he told reporters.
Puigdemont, accompanied by other members of the Catalan regional government, lawmakers and hundreds of mayors, crowded onto the steps of the parliament building to address thousands of supporters gathering outside, shouting “liberty.”
In a short speech, he said, “We ourselves must now form our own structures and our own society.”
Opposition leader supports Spain
Socialist opposition leader Pedro Sanchez reacted to the Catalan independence move Friday by pledging “my party’s progressive flag will never join those seeking to take our country over the abyss.”
Even regional authorities in the traditionally nationalistic Basque region have been reluctant to support the Catalan cause, despite growing relations between radical separatists in both regions.
The United Nations spokesperson urged all sides “to seek solutions with in the framework of the Spanish constitution and through established political and legal channels.”
The European Union Council President Donald Tusk, who has supported Madrid’s approach to the crisis, said on Twitter he hoped “the Spanish government favors force of argument, not argument of force.”
NATO, of which Spain is a member, said in a statement, “The Catalonia issue is a domestic matter which should be resolved within Spain's constitutional order.”
Madrid's efforts to keep the country united also has the continued support of the U.S. government. U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement, “… the United States supports the Spanish government's constitutional measures to keep Spain strong and united.”
Some international support for Catalan independence, however, seems to be coming from Russia, which is giving some recognition to Catalan separatists as reciprocal action for past U.S. and European backing to breakaway former Soviet republics and the controversial independence of Kosovo.
“By backing the independence of Kosovo, formed and prosperous countries such as Spain put at risk their own fragile stability,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said last week at an international forum in Sochi.
“It's undeniable that Putin is interested in the destabilization and balkanization of Spain,” a senior Spanish diplomat told VOA, asking that his name not be used.
The de facto foreign minister of the Russian supported breakaway state of South Osetia, Dimitri Medoev, who is reported to be close to the Kremlin, visited Catalonia this week to set up an “interests office” in Barcelona to promote “bilateral relations in humanitarian and cultural issues.”
South Osetia pledged support for the “sovereignty of Catalonia” following the Oct. 1 referendum.
Rogue states such as Venezuela and North Korea also have expressed support for Catalonian secessionism.