The Madrid government sacked Catalonia’s president and dismissed its parliament on Friday, hours after the region declared itself an independent nation in Spain’s gravest political crisis since the return of democracy four decades ago.
A new regional election will be held in Catalonia on Dec. 21, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said in a televised address on a day of high drama.
As well as removing Carles Puigdemont as head of the autonomous region, he also fired its police chief and said central government ministries would take over the Catalan administration.
“Spain is living through a sad day,” Rajoy said. “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.”
As he spoke, thousands of independence supporters packed the Sant Jaume Square in front of the Catalan regional headquarters in Barcelona, their earlier joyful mood somewhat dampened by Rajoy’s actions.
In a stunning show of defiance of Madrid, the Catalan parliament had voted in the afternoon to make a unilateral declaration of independence.
Despite the emotions and celebrations inside and outside the building, it was a futile gesture as shortly afterwards the Spanish Senate in Madrid approved the imposition of direct rule.
Several European countries, including France and Germany, and the United States also rejected the independence declaration and said they supported Rajoy’s efforts to preserve Spain’s unity.
The crisis has now reached a new and possibly dangerous level as independence supporters have called for a campaign of disobedience. Immediately after news of the vote, Spanish shares and bonds were sold off, reflecting business concern over the turmoil.