Women hold Spanish and Catalan flags during a gathering against Catalonia independence in front of the European Parliament in Strasbourg - REUTERS
MADRID/BARCELONA - 27 October 2017: Spain is set impose direct rule in Catalonia on Friday, an unprecedented step that risks sparking unrest as secessionists call on the Catalan parliament to make a defiant declaration of independence.
The upper house of the Spanish parliament - the Senate - and the Catalan parliament both meet at 10 a.m. (0800 GMT) to discuss the government's application of Article 155 of the constitution, which allows the central administration to take over a region when it breaks the law.
But there is great uncertainty over how this will work on the ground and whether Catalans will accept it. Some independence supporters have promised a campaign of civil disobedience.
The crisis has divided Catalonia and caused deep resentment around Spain. It has also prompted a flight of business from the wealthy region and worried European leaders who fear the crisis could fan separatist sentiment around the continent.
The authorisation of the Senate, where Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's People's Party holds an absolute majority, is a necessary step for the government to impose direct rule. A vote in the chamber is expected by 2 p.m. (1200 GMT).
Rajoy is then expected to hold a meeting of his cabinet to adopt the first measures to govern Catalonia directly. This could include sacking the government and assuming direct supervision of Catalonia's police forces.
What could happen simultaneously in the regional parliament of Catalonia is unclear.
When he ruled out a snap regional election on Thursday, Catalonia's president Carles Puigdemont said it was now up to the Catalan parliament to move forward with a mandate to break from Spain following an independence referendum on Oct. 1.
The vote was declared illegal by Madrid and national police used heavy-handed tactics to try to stop it.
Puigdemont made an ambiguous declaration of independence on Oct. 10, which he immediately suspended to allow for talks with the government.
But no discussions were held and Puigdemont later spurned an invitation to appear before the Senate to explain his position.
The Catalan assembly could decide to simply lift this suspension, make a more explicit declaration of independence or put a formal motion to split from Spain to a vote.
None of these options is expected to have any direct consequence as Spain's constitutional court would immediately block any claim for statehood and other countries have made clear they would not recognise Catalonia as an independent state.
Pro-independence supporters started to gather outside the parliament where a demonstration was called from 10.30 a.m.