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Spanish lawmakers vote to give Madrid ‘exceptional powers’ over Catalonia

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In the ongoing fight for independence, Catalonia’s parliament on Friday voted to start the process to secede from Spain, Reuters reports. And in response, the central government in Spain is now moving to use what the prime minister deemed “exceptional measures” to block the autonomous region’s efforts, with lawmakers voting to approve a never-before-used article allowing the government to take over Catalonia.

“Exceptional measures should only be adopted when no other remedy is possible,” said Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, addressing 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 Senate vote on Article 155 of the constitution took place late on Friday, and not only allows for Madrid to directly rule Barcelona and control its police forces, but also allows Rajoy to dismiss Barcelona’s government. Catalonia’s independence vote wasn’t the first of its kind, but this time, the central government in Madrid responded harshly . From the start, Madrid declared Catalonia’s independence referendum illegal and deployed national police in an effort to stop it.

Rajoy has described Catalonia’s push for independence as “the biggest joke to democracy.” He is expected to put the powers granted to him under Article 155 in motion by Saturday.

This latest development brings with it the worry of even greater instability in the country, where violence and unrest has followed the October 1 independence referendum. Catalonia’s economy has taken a hit, with businesses leaving the wealthy northeastern region. The political crisis has also given rise to nationalistic sentiments in Spain, where the country’s flags are now being prominently displayed in homes across Madrid.

Friday’s developments have put everyone on edge, as Reuters reports that a “campaign of civil disobedience” by Catalan independence supporters could “lead to direct confrontation with security forces.” It’s unclear how Madrid will proceed in getting rid of Catalonia’s government, including embattled President Carles Puigdemont.

Other leaders in the region have expressed support for Madrid in the past, but in recent days, the European Union has stayed noticeably silent on the issue. When asked about the crisis at an E.U. summit last week, European Council President Donald Tusk said, “It is not on our agenda. All of us have our own emotions, opinions, assessments but formally speaking there is no space for an EU intervention.”

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