Spain is moving to take direct control of the Catalan region.

Catalonia Independence
Credit: PAU BARRENA/AFP/Getty Images

The Catalan regional parliament voted to officially declare independence from Spain on Friday, a step that is setting the stage for a dramatic confrontation with the Spanish government.

“We constitute the Catalan Republic, as an independent and sovereign country, under the rule of law,” said the preamble to the resolution, read by Speaker Carme Forcadell.

The Spanish senate then voted to trigger Article 155 of the constitution soon after, giving Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy the power to oust current Catalan leaders. Article 155 of the Spanish constitution has never been used and its wording is vague, but it allows Spain to suspend elements of Catalonia's autonomy, taking direct control of the region and removing members of its government.

Catalonia has long functioned as an autonomous region within Spain, with its own parliament, language, and customs. Catalonia is one of the wealthiest regions of the country, and with harsh austerity measures imposed in the wake of an economic slowdown, some Catalan residents have increasingly called for independence.

“We are creating a country free of repression,” separatist lawmaker Marta Rovira said in a speech before the vote, The New York Times reported.

A referendum earlier this year indicated that the majority of Catalan residents supported independence, though those results were hotly contested, with reports of voter interference. The referendum was declared illegal both by Spain and the European Union.

Rajoy said he had “no alternative” in a speech given before the vote Friday, slamming the actions of Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont.

“The thing that Catalans need protecting from is not what they're calling Spanish imperialism, but a minority who, in an intolerant way, declare themselves the owners of Catalonia and consider as exclusive a history, culture and feelings that are the heritage of the community,” he said, BBC reported.