Relations between Spain and Catalonia are set to be tested further today as the Spanish government prepares to take away Catalan regional powers.
The Spanish Senate in Madrid is to approve Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s plan to use Article 155 of the country’s constitution to remove or limit Catalonia’s self-rule.
But some expect the move will motivate Catalan lawmakers to unilaterally declare its independence from Spain, in what is seen by separatists as mandated by the independence referendum on 1 October.
In the weeks since the referendum, which was labelled as illegal by Spain, tensions between the two sides have grown.
Spanish officials had suggested a snap election in December as a way out of the worsening political crisis.
But after Catalan officials indicated the region’s president Carles Puigdemont might go along with this, angry separatist-flag-waving demonstrators marched in the region’s main city of Barcelona calling him a traitor.
Even some of his allies described him as a coward for not declaring independence earlier.
But he said he had decided against the election because the Spanish government had not given enough assurance that it would stop what he described as its “abusive” measures to assume control over the region.
His move effectively dares Madrid to take action and provoke the response from Catalan nationalists.
If Spain were to go ahead with Article 155 it would be an intervention in one of the country’s 17 autonomous regions on a level not seen before.
Lluis Corominas, spokesman for Mr Puigdemont’s Democratic Party of Catalonia, said it would be seen as representing “an aggression… without precedent”.
Despite the loud voices of separatist demonstrators in Barcelona on Thursday, polls show Catalans are roughly evenly split on the idea of independence from Spain.
Around 90% of voters backed independence in the referendum, Catalan officials say, but just 43% of eligible voters voted.
Hundreds of businesses have already moved their legal headquarters out of the region, fearing further chaos, and industry bodies say tourist bookings are already declining.