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'Champagne Today, Vinegar Tomorrow' for New Catalan 'Republic'

The deep divisions of this wealthy, northeastern region of Spain were on full display as Catalan MPs cheered and embraced before singing the Catalan anthem after the vote was passed by 70 of 135 lawmakers.

AFP

Updated:October 28, 2017, 8:03 AM IST
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'Champagne Today, Vinegar Tomorrow' for New Catalan 'Republic'
People celebrate after the Catalan regional parliament passes the vote of the independence from Spain in Barcelona. (Image: Reuters)
Barcelona: "Welcome to the Catalan republic," a regional government official declared on Friday as pro-separatist lawmakers celebrated a historic vote that promised independence from Spain.

But pro-unionists glumly assessed the fallout to what they view as a hugely damaging and illegal vote.

The deep divisions of this wealthy, northeastern region of Spain were on full display as Catalan MPs cheered and embraced before singing the Catalan anthem after the vote was passed by 70 of 135 lawmakers.

As he left parliament, Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont received a standing ovation from his MPs and more than 200 pro-independence mayors.

And in the red velvet corridors, shouts of "independence, independence" and "Long live Catalonia" were soon replaced by "Long live the republic."

The shouts of joy were a stark contrast to the earlier reaction of opposition MPs, who walked out of the chamber as an independent republic was proclaimed, some leaving the Spanish and Catalan flags draped over their seats.

"We're heading to disaster," one Socialist party lawmaker said, reflecting the sombre mood among those who are against independence.

In a pre-vote debate, opposition MPs had angrily expressed their disapproval.

"It's a serious mistake, a very serious mistake", "You have plunged us into an abyss", "you will go down in history as having divided Catalans"... they lamented.

Jubilation outside parliament

Outside, the session was broadcast live on two giant screens.

As the vote proceeded slowly inside, some 15,000 people watched attentively, cheering every "yes" vote counted, and shouting out a disappointed "oh" to each "no".

When the resolution to declare Catalonia a republic was finally approved, a cry of joy erupted as some popped bottles of cava, the region's fizzy wine.

People strained their vocal chords singing the Catalan hymn, fists raised, before falling into each other's arms or, in some cases, bursting out crying.

Irma Bros, 31, was shaking with emotion. "These last few days have been so hard," she said, her eyes welling up.

"My grandfather, who lived through the civil war, would be so happy to see what people have obtained."

A Catalan separatist flag tied around his neck, Pedro Haro said he was "very, very happy."

"Today we're popping cava — or champagne if you prefer — but tomorrow, it might turn to vinegar," the 61-year-old mechanic warned, bracing for the central government's push back.

Later — in a defiant reaction from Madrid to reassert control — Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said he is the dissolving the regional parliament and calling new regional elections.

The move will allow Madrid to seize the semi-autonomous region's political powers and finances, depose Puigdemont and his executive, and take over regional ministries.

'Very dark'

After the independence proclamation, the crowds dispersed, going back to work or to celebrate with a drink, some heading to a wine fair near parliament where customers sporting separatist flags sipped drinks to the delight of the vendors.

Others, though, eyed the future more cautiously, like Marta Domingo, 45, who said she was "on the verge of crying."

"Now we're going to toast this, and if necessary, protect the institutions. We're going to need to defend the republic."

Angel Sancho, a 54-year-old salesman, said Catalans had dreamt about independence "for centuries."

"But the transition shouldn't have caused a trauma, we needed a legal vote," he said, referring to the October 1 independence referendum held despite a court ban.

Sitting on a bench in Catalonia Square in central Barcelona, Mari Ecija, a 49-year-old sales assistant, was "very concerned," pointing to "all these companies leaving."

Some 1,700 firms have already moved their legal headquarters out of Catalonia under the cloud of uncertainty, and there are concerns the region's economy will suffer hugely.

For Ecija, the future looked "very dark."

But Josep Reina does not believe the crisis will last.

"They can't declare independence with all those who didn't go vote (in the outlawed referendum)," said the 34-year-old salesman.

"They're forgetting part of the people, the majority, who weren't able to decide."
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