The Spanish government took control of Catalonia, dissolved its parliament and assigned new elections after secessionist Catalan MPs voted to establish an independent republic, pushing the country's worst political crisis in 40 years to new and dangerous heights.
Speaking on Friday evening, the Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, said his cabinet had fired the regional president, Carles Puigdemont, and ordered regional elections to be held on 21 December.
Rajoy said the Catalan government had been removed along with the head of the regional police force, the Mossos d'Esquadra. The Catalan government's international "embassies" are also to be shut down.
"I have decided to call free, clean and legal elections as soon as possible to restore democracy," he told a press conference, adding that the aim of the measures was to "restore the self-government that has been eliminated by the decisions of the Catalan government.
"We never, ever wanted to get to this situation. Nor do we think that it would be good to prolong this exceptional [state of affairs]. But as we have always said, this is not about suspending autonomy but about restoring it."
The actions came hours after Spain's national unity suffered a decisive blow when Catalan MPs in the 135-seat regional parliament voted for independence by a margin of 70 votes to 10.
Dozens of opposition MPs boycotted the secret ballot, marching out of the chamber in Barcelona before it took place and leaving Spanish and Catalan flags on their empty seats in protest.
Minutes later in Madrid, the Spanish senate granted Rajoy unprecedented powers to impose direct rule on Catalonia under article 155 of the constitution.
The article, which has never been used, allows Rajoy to sack Puigdemont and assume control of Catalonia's civil service, police, finances and public media.
The European Union, the UK, Germany and the United States all said they would not recognize Catalan independence and expressed support for Madrid's to preserve Spanish unity.
Source: News Agencies, Edited by website team