Catalonia is expected to declare independence from Spain within the next few days, after police violence during the October 1 referendum.
Catalonia's parliament will defy a Spanish court ban and go ahead on Monday with a debate that could lead to a declaration of independence, a regional government official has said, as Spain's worst political crisis in decades looked set to deepen.
"Parliament will discuss, parliament will meet. It will be a debate, and this is important," the Catalan government's head of foreign affairs, Raul Romeva, said on Friday.
Pro-independence parties which control the regional parliament have asked for the debate and vote, which is expected to go in favour of declaring independence.
A declaration should follow this vote, although it is unclear when.
Catalan President Carles Puigdemont has said his government would ask the region's parliament to declare independence after tallying all votes from Sunday's referendum, which Madrid says was illegal.
"This will probably finish once we get all the votes in from abroad at the end of the week and therefore we shall probably act over the weekend or early next week," he said in remarks published on Wednesday.
How did it all start?
On September 6, the Catalan regional parliament approved a referendum on independence, meaning the Catalan government enacted its own law.
Separatist parties which hold a slim majority decided to hold the referendum on October 1.
After the Spanish government declared the vote illegal, Spain’s Constitutional Court suspended the vote under the Spanish constitution.
But regional separatist leaders decided to hold the vote regardless, and said that if “yes” won, they would declare independence, and called on the 5.3 million eligible voters to cast their ballot.
But why does Catalonia want independence from Spain? That goes back to 2008, when the 2008 economic crisis left 19 percent of the people unemployed.
Separatist Catalans felt that the central government was putting too much economic pressure on them.
More than 2.25 million people turned out for the October 1 referendum where the “yes” vote garnered 90.1 percent, with 95 percent of the vote counted.
Results showed voters had overwhelmingly voted to secede from Spain.
In Barcelona, hundreds of students gathered in a central square to protest Sunday's police crackdown, chanting pro-independence slogans and waving Catalan flags.
But the protests took a violent turn when police smashed their way into polling stations.
Policemen confiscated ballot boxes and used tear gas on voters. Pictures of police officers hitting elderly people and using rubber bullets and batons to push back voters and protesters reverberated around Europe.
Puigdemont said nearly 900 people had received medical attention, though local authorities confirmed a total of 92 had been injured.
Four were hospitalised, two in a serious condition. The national government said more than 400 police officers were hurt.
Who are the Catalans?
Catalonia, a region of 7.5 million people, accounts for a fifth of Spain's economy and it is one of Spain’s richest regions.
It has its own language as well as traditions.
Catalonia’s claims for independence have surged over the years and date back to 2010 when the Constitutional Court ruled that Catalonia is not itself a nation but a nationality, a move that angered the regional authorities.
In November 2014, Catalans held a non-binding vote on independence with 80 percent of the eligible voters voting “yes”.
Separatists in Catalonia won the 2015 election and vowed to hold a binding referendum.
Do all Catalans want independence?
No, not all in the region agree.
As some went to cast ballots, other citizens boycotted the vote and even protested against it, calling for a united Spain.
Puigdemont's regional government claimed that 2.26 million people took part in the poll, or just over 42 percent of the electorate, but the vote was held without regular electoral lists or observers.
The regional government said 90 percent of those who voted backed independence, but polls indicate Catalans are split.
Why does Spain say the vote was illegal?
Spain's King Felipe VI said he was committed to the unity of Spain and he accused Catalan leaders of shattering democratic principles and dividing Catalan society.
He said the Spanish crown was strongly committed to the Spanish constitution and to democracy and underlined his commitment as king "to the unity and permanence of Spain."
Catalonia was granted autonomy under Spain’s 1978 democratic constitution, which affirms “the indissoluble unity of the Spanish Nation, the common and indivisible homeland of all Spaniards.”
That means Spain is indivisible.
What does Europe say?
The European Commission issued a statement supporting Madrid’s line that the vote was "not legal" under Spain's constitution.
But it urged Spain to talk to Catalan separatists after the scenes of Spanish police beating people trying to vote.
Donald Tusk, the former Polish prime minister who chairs summits of EU national leaders, spoke to Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and even though he shares the Spanish premier's constitutional arguments, he appealed to him to find ways to prevent a further escalation and the use of force.
There has been growing unease in Brussels about the way the conservative government in Madrid has handled the confrontation with Barcelona, reviving emotions rooted in the 20th-century civil war and dictatorship.
Declaring independence is what Catalans are now waiting for, along with Spain’s reaction.
Madrid could trigger article 155 of the constitution which demonstrates that “If a Self-governing Community does not fulfil the obligations imposed upon it by the Constitution or other laws” the government can “take all measures necessary to compel the Community to meet said obligations.”
However, taking under consideration that Spain has 17 regions with some kind of autonomy, the move could create more separatist movements.