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Catalan lawmakers declare independence, Spain strips it of autonomy

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Catalan lawmakers declare independence, Spain strips it of autonomy
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Barcelona: Lawmakers at the Catalan parliament on Friday voted in favour of unilaterally declaring independence from Spain and thus triggered a response from the country's Senate that approved a constitutional measure to strip the northeastern region of its self-government.

The Catalan resolution was approved with 70 votes in favour, 10 against and two ballots left blank, in the regional chamber that has 135 seats.

A few minutes later, Spain's Senate voted to withdraw Catalonia's autonomy by 214 votes, 47 against and one abstention.

Two senators, Jose Montilla, a former President of Catalonia, and Fracesc Antic, ex-President of the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean, walked out of the Senate prior to the vote.

The Catalan regional branches of Spain's main political parties -- the ruling conservative Popular Party, the Socialist Party (PSOE) and the centre-right Ciudadanos -- all walked out of the Catalan parliament and refused to take part in the independence vote, which they considered unconstitutional.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy assured that "the rule of law would restore legality to Catalonia," and asked Spain to remain calm.

His cabinet was scheduled to begin a meeting to discuss the results late on Friday.

Initial reactions from around the world gave support to Spain but also called on its government to show restraint in dealing with the situation.

The President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, said nothing would change for the European Union, which would continue considering Spain as a united Europe's only interlocutor on the issue.

"I hope the Spanish government favours force of argument, not argument of force," he said on his official Twitter account.

The United States Department of State also voiced its backing for Spain, insisting that the two countries were close allies with a great friendship.

"Catalonia is an integral part of Spain, and the United States supports the Spanish government's constitutional measures to keep Spain strong and united," read a statement by spokesperson Heather Nauert.

A Spanish government source confirmed to Efe that Madrid would appeal the declaration of independence in the Constitutional Court, the highest rung of the country's judiciary.

Lawmakers at the Catalan parliament had previously approved starting the constitutional mechanisms necessary to create a new state with 71 votes in favour, eight against and three abstentions.

As the vote took place, some 15,000 people gathered outside the parliament building in Barcelona in favour of independence, chanting "not a single step back," and "we are with you."

At the same time, the Spanish Senate was preparing a series of measures underpinning Article 155 of the Constitution, a legal device to bring autonomous regions under the central government's direct rule.

The Senate's debate was ordered by Rajoy.

The government wants to remove Catalan leader Puigdemont and his cabinet from their posts, limit the functions of the local parliament, impose direct Madrid rule on some Catalan ministries and institutions as well as call fresh elections.

According to a Spanish government source, these measures are to be applied immediately after the Senate approves them.

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