Catalonia's independence standoff: How we got here and what comes next

How Catalonia's independence crisis unfolded
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(CNN)The Spanish government has announced that it will press ahead with steps to impose direct rule on Catalonia, after the region's government refused to renounce its drive towards independence.

The standoff over Catalonia, the richest of Spain's 17 regions, has plunged one of the European Union's biggest countries into a deep political crisis. It was triggered by Catalan leaders pushing ahead with an independence referendum on October 1 that was declared illegal by Spain's highest court and marred by a violent crackdown by national police.
Here's what we know about what comes next and how we got here.

    What comes next?

    The government of Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has said it will trigger Article 155 of the Spanish constitution, which would allow it to suspend the autonomy of the Catalan regional administration.
    An extraordinary Cabinet meeting will be held on Saturday to agree the measures to be taken before they are sent to the Senate for approval, the government said.
    Catalan President Carles Puigdemont has not yet responded to the Madrid government's move.
    But in a letter sent shortly before the announcement, he threatened that the region could formally declare independence if the Spanish government did not engage in dialogue.
    Puigdemont also demanded Spain end its "repression" of Catalan separatist leaders, two of whom are in custody on suspicion of sedition.

    What does Article 155 involve?

    Never invoked before, Article 155 of the 1978 Spanish constitution is the legal mechanism under which Catalonia's autonomy can be suspended.
    It allows the central government to take back control of regions, such as Catalonia and the Basque Country, that were granted sweeping freedoms after the 1975 downfall of the Franco dictatorship, if they act beyond the law or threaten the national interest.
    Such a step would almost certainly mean officers from the Guardia Civil, the national security force, being deployed once again in the streets of Catalonia, a provocative act that risks sparking violence.
    The Madrid government said it was moving ahead with triggering Article 155 to restore "constitutional order" and to protect the interests of all Spanish people, including Catalans.

    What would independence mean?

    An independent Catalonia would have few friends, with other EU countries fearing breakaway movements as well. In any case, under EU rules, Catalonia would not be a member of the European Union on its own, and would have to apply for membership from outside the bloc.
    But many observers think that despite crumbling relations between officials in Barcelona and Madrid, the two sides will be able to negotiate a settlement that could leave Catalonia with more autonomy and increased control over its own finances.
    Even so, uncertainty and public unrest in the coming days (or months) could do a fair bit of damage to local businesses and the economy.

    What's happened in recent days?

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    More than 2.25 million people turned out to cast their ballot in the October 1 referendum, with the regional government reporting that 90% of voters were in favor of a split from Madrid. But the turnout was low -- around 43% of the voter roll -- which Catalan officials blamed on the central government's efforts to stop the vote.
    National police launched a concerted effort to prevent people from casting their ballots. That sparked violent clashes that left almost 900 people injured, according to Catalan officials. The scenes shocked Catalans and reverberated around Europe. Madrid's representative to Catalonia later apologized for the violence.
    Spain's King Felipe intervened on the side of Madrid, saying Catalan leaders had acted "outside the law." Puigdemont had hoped Felipe would mediate the dispute.
    When Catalan officials called on the EU to intervene, Brussels also backed Madrid.
    Catalan Police Chief Josep Lluís Trapero has appeared in a Madrid court along with two leading figures in the Catalan independence movement to answer allegations of sedition.
    Hundreds of thousands of people have marched in the streets of Barcelona, calling for unity and talks between Rajoy and Puigdemont.
    And in an indication of the uncertainty surrounding Catalonia, several major banks and a number of other companies announced they would move their head offices to other parts of Spain, threatening stability in the country's most economically productive region.

    How did we get here?

    Catalans have their own language, which is based on the romance Latin-based tongues of southern Europe but is quite different from Spanish, which was influenced by the Arabs who ruled huge swathes of medieval Spain. Several times during its history, Catalonia has found itself caught between the rivalries of France and Spain.
    The region industrialized before the rest of Spain and had strong anarchist, socialist and communist movements that all fought against General Francisco Franco in the 1936-1939 Spanish Civil war.
    The current dispute goes back to that conflict. Franco, the victor, repressed Catalonia's earlier limited autonomy, and in the early years of the dictatorship at least, expressions of Catalan language and culture. It wasn't until four years after Franco's death in 1979 that the region regained some of that autonomy.
    In 2006, the Spanish government backed Catalonia's calls for even greater powers, granting "nation" status and financial control to the region. But four years later, the Constitutional Court rescinded that status, ruling that while Catalan is a "nationality," Catalonia itself is not a nation.
    One of Spain's 17 autonomous provinces, Catalonia has its own regional government with considerable powers over healthcare, education and tax collection. But it pays taxes to Madrid, and pro-independence politicians argue that complex mechanisms for redistributing tax revenue are unfair to wealthier areas, something that has helped stoke resentment. 
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    The region accounts for a fifth of Spain's economy producing 25% of the country's exports. It contributes much more in taxes (21% of the country's total) than it gets back from the government.
    In a symbolic poll in 2014, 80% of Catalan voters backed complete secession -- but only 32% of the electorate turned out.