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Spanish PM Faces Crisis After Violent Secession Vote in Catalonia

A man dressed in the Catalonian flag confronts officers as police move in on the crowds as members of the public gather outside to prevent them from stopping the opening and intended voting in the referendum at a polling station on October 1, 2017 in Sant Julia de Ramis, Spain. (Getty)

SANT PERE DE TORELLO, Spain (Reuters) – Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy faces Spain’s biggest constitutional crisis in decades after Sunday’s violence-marred independence referendum in Catalonia opened the door for its wealthiest region to move for secession as early as this week.

The streets of Barcelona, the Catalan capital, were quiet on Monday, but newspaper editorials said the referendum, in which Catalan officials said 90 percent of voters had chosen to leave Spain, had set the stage for a decisive clash between Madrid and the region.

“It could all get worse,” the moderate Catalan newspaper La Vanguardia said in an editorial after Spanish police used batons and rubber bullets to disrupt the vote, which had been declared illegal by Madrid. Catalan officials said 840 people had been injured.

“We’re entering a phase of strikes and street protests … and with more movement, more repression.”

Catalonia is a center of industry and tourism accounting for a fifth of Spain’s economy, a production base for major multi-nationals from Volkswagen to Nestle, and home to Europe’s fastest-growing sea port. Although it already has extensive autonomy, its tax revenues are crucial to Spain’s state budget.

Catalonia’s regional leader, Carles Puigdemont, declared on Sunday that voters had earned the right to independence and said he would present the results to the region’s parliament, which then had the power to move a motion of independence.

The referendum has no legal status; it has been blocked by the Madrid government and Constitutional Court for being at odds with the 1978 constitution, which states that Spain cannot be broken up, and there is little sign of support for Catalan independence in any other part of Spain.

Puigdemont called an emergency meeting of the Catalan regional government. In Madrid, Rajoy planned to coordinate next steps in a meeting with Pedro Sanchez, leader of the opposition Socialists.

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