Catalan parliament declares independence as Spanish government imposes direct rule

However, in Barcelona, separatist lawmakers filed a proposal for Catalonia's regional parliament to vote later in the day on whether to establish an independent republic, as Spain's biggest political crisis in decades appeared headed for a showdown.

Demonstrators wave "Estelada" flags (pro-independence Catalan flags) during celebrations of Catalonia's National Day.

Rajoy, who received rapturous applause before and after his speech in the Senate in Madrid, told the chamber that Spain was facing a challenge not seen in its recent history. "They are approaching a cliff. with consequences that are hard to predict right now", says Joan Barcelo, a researcher on political conflicts at Washington University in St. Louis.

The special measures are the only way out of the crisis, he said, adding that Spain is not trying to take away liberties from Catalans, but instead protect them.

While the UK Government said it will not recognise the declaration of independence, Scotland's External Affairs Secretary Fiona Hyslop said the people of Catalonia "must have the ability to determine their own future". The crowd went wild with excitement the moment the decision to declare independence from Spain was announced.

Addressing the Spanish Senate ahead of its vote on Article 155, Rajoy said the rule of law had been "stomped on" in Catalonia and warned of a fracturing of society.

The motion was approved with 70 votes in favor, 10 against and two abstentions, a result that immediately saw Spanish shares fall sharply.

"The imposition of direct rule can not be the solution and should be of concern to democrats everywhere".

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"Catalonia is an integral part of Spain, and the United States supports the Spanish government's constitutional measures to keep Spain strong and united", US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.

Ms Hyslop said: "We understand and respect the position of the Catalan Government". "Madrid is starting with total repression - and there is no longer any (other) option".

The government's proposals include removing the Catalan government's regional leaders from office and curtailing the authority of the region's parliament.

This latest chapter in the standoff comes after Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont refused to clarify to Madrid whether or not the region had already declared independence following the referendum.

The parliamentary sessions in Madrid and Barcelona are likely to last several hours before each votes on their resolutions.

The senate is expected to back his proposals, which also have the support of the opposition parties. It will then be up to the government when to implement them. The region contributes about a fifth of Spain's economy, the fourth-largest in the euro zone.

Catalans are divided on the question of independence - an opinion poll earlier this year said 41 percent were in favour and 49 percent were opposed to independence.

  • Sonia Alvarado