The Spanish government prepared to impose direct rule over Catalonia on Friday to block its push for independence, an unprecedented move that takes Spain’s worst political crisis in four decades to a new level, Reuters reports.

The upper house of Spain’s parliament, the Senate, was meeting to approve Article 155, the law that will allow the central government to take over the autonomous region.

In Catalonia’s main city Barcelona, separatist leaders were figuring out their next move, which could include a unilateral declaration of independence, as supporters gathered in the streets.

“Exceptional measures should only be adopted when no other remedy is possible,” Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said in an address to the Senate. “In my opinion there is no alternative. The only thing that can be done and should be done is to accept and comply with the law.”

The Catalan leadership was ignoring the law and making a mockery of democracy, he said.

“We are facing a challenge unprecedented in our recent history,” said Rajoy, who has staked out an uncompromising position against Catalonia’s campaign to break away from Spain.

The crisis has split Catalonia and caused deep resentment around Spain – national flags now hang from many balconies in the capital in an expression of unity.

It has also prompted a flight of business from the wealthy northeastern region and alarmed European leaders who fear the crisis could fan separatist sentiment around the continent.

A vote in the Senate was expected by 2 p.m. (1200 GMT). Rajoy was then expected to convene his cabinet to adopt the first measures to govern Catalonia directly. This could include sacking the Barcelona government and assuming direct supervision of Catalan police forces.

But how direct rule would work on the ground – including the reaction of civil servants and the police – is uncertain.

Some independence supporters have promised to mount a campaign of civil disobedience, which could lead to direct confrontation with security forces.

What could happen in the regional parliament of Catalonia was also unclear.

Catalan president Carles Puigdemont on Thursday ruled out a new regional election that might break the deadlock and said it was now up to the parliament to act on a mandate to break from Spain following an independence referendum on Oct. 1.

The ballot, which drew only a 43 percent turnout as Catalans who oppose independence largely boycotted it, was declared illegal by Madrid and national police used heavy-handed tactics to try to stop it.

“No repression in Catalonia, Spain is not Yugoslavia”

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has assessed that the situation in Catalonia cannot be compared to that in the former Yugoslavia, B92 reports.

“There is no problem of human rights violations in Catalonia, because the Catalans, who are dear to me and whose culture I respect, are not under Spain’s repression. It is impossible to draw parallels with Slovenia and other countries of the former Yugoslavia with what is happening in Catalonia,” he told Portugal’s RTP broadcaster.

Juncker added that he does not want “an EU with 95 different countries tomorrow, or the day after.”
“We would lose control. National unity and European unity are things that go together,” Juncker said, and in that way, according Croatia’s Hina agency, again rejected the possibility of mediating in the conflict between Barcelona and Madrid.

“The situation has already slipped out of control a little bit, because the government and a part of the Catalan parliament have stepped outside the legal framework. The Spanish Constitution is quite clear – no referendum on secession can be organized, “Juncker said.

He added that “Europe has no role in the conflict between Barcelona and Madrid.”

“The Spanish are the ones who need to solve this problem,” Juncker said.