Catalonia’s parliament declared independence from Spain on Friday in defiance of the Madrid government.
The declaration was made ahead of an expected vote in Spain senate which will see Madrid seize the region's autonomous powers.
Although the declaration was in effect a symbolic gesture as it will not be accepted by Spain or the international community, the moves by both sides take Spain’s worst political crisis in four decades to a new level.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy immediately called for calm and said the rule of law would be restored, reports Reuters.
The motion passed in the regional parliament in Barcelona, which was boycotted by opposition parties, said Catalonia constituted an independent, sovereign and social democratic state. It called on other countries and institutions to recognise it.
It also said it wanted to open talks with Madrid to collaborate on setting up the new republic.
“It is not going to be easy, it is not going to be free, it is not going to change in a day. But there is no alternative to a process towards the Catalan Republic,” lawmaker Marta Rovira of the Junts pel Si pro-independence alliance said in a debate leading to the vote.
After the debate, lawmakers from members of three main national parties -- the People’s Party, the Socialists and Ciudadanos, walked out.
Members of the pro-independence parties and the far-left Podemos then voted in 70-10 in favour in a secret ballot aimed at hindering any attempt by the central government to lay criminal charges on them.
Spanish shares and bonds were sold off when the result of the vote was announced.
Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont left the chamber to shouts of “President!”.
Meanwhile in Madrid the upper house of Spain’s parliament, the Senate, was due to approve Article 155, the law that allowing the central government to take over the autonomous region.
“Exceptional measures should only be adopted when no other remedy is possible,” Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said in an address to the Senate. “In my opinion there is no alternative. The only thing that can be done and should be done is to accept and comply with the law.”
The Catalan leadership was ignoring the law and making a mockery of democracy, he said.
“We are facing a challenge unprecedented in our recent history,” said Rajoy, who has staked out an uncompromising position against Catalonia’s campaign to break away from Spain.