A man in Barcelona writes “For a country with rights” on a Catalan flag after the regional Parliament declared independence from Spain. (Yves Herman/Reuters)

Spain on Saturday began to assert control over Catalonia, sacking the region's president, ministers, diplomats and police chiefs and transferring all authority to the central government in Madrid.

But it was an open question as to who was really in charge of the breakaway "Republic of Catalonia" in the hours after a divided Catalan Parliament declared independence.

Catalonia’s secessionist president, Carles Puigdemont, who was cheered by onlookers when he walked the streets of his home town of Girona on Saturday, issued a prerecorded call for citizens to mount “a democratic opposition” to the takeover.

Although some saw the brief statement as an act of resistance — a defiant roar — many of the pro-independence Catalans were disappointed and struggled to understand what he meant.

Barcelona, the capital of the newly declared republic, was placid on Saturday — even a bit dull — as if the population had taken a deep breath and was wondering what comes next.

News crews looking for action, for big demonstrations or clashes, were reduced to filming pigeons flapping around in the Plaça de Catalunya.

After being granted unprecedented powers by the Spanish Senate, the central government, in the early-morning hours Saturday, published lists of Catalan officials, alongside their advisers, who were being fired.

The chief of the Catalan regional police, Josep Lluís Trapero, who is being investigated by Spanish prosecutors for defying legal orders, was among the officially dismissed.

In all, more than 140 Catalans were told they no longer hold positions of power.

The Catalan Parliament was dissolved by order of Spain, and new elections were scheduled for Dec. 21 in the well-to-do region of northeast Spain, riven by emotional divisions between pro-independence sentiment and the desire of those who want to remain in Spain.

Catalonia’s separatist politicians mostly stayed out of sight Saturday, declining requests for media interviews and avoiding public appearances.

Phone calls and emails to Catalan officials went unanswered or were off the record.

One exception was the restrained three-minute statement by the ousted president, Puigdemont, which aired on the region’s public broadcaster but was recorded earlier.

Puigdemont said the people should continue to defend their new republic peacefully and “with a sense of civic responsibility.” He decried Spain’s takeover and called it “a premeditated attack on the majority will of Catalans.”

But he offered nothing about what comes next.

The night before, Puigdemont tweeted: "Catalonia is and will be a land of freedom. At the service of people. In the difficult moments and at the moments of celebration. Now more than ever."

After a night when a third of the region partied and a third slammed its shutters, people in the street were as divided as ever — between supporters of independence, opponents who view secession as a historic blunder and the many in the middle who aren’t really sure.

Even among those whose hearts felt pride and joy upon hearing a new republic declared, their heads sensed that Catalonia was not really a sovereign state. Far from it.

Many expressed anxiety.

Joaquim Bayo, 87, a retired salesman, said he had already heard nervous jokes about when Spain will send tanks into the Barcelona streets.

“Look, we’re not such revolutionaries. We will have to wait. So, they announced a new republic. Good! If you look at history, we had one republic that lasted three years, one that lasted three days. Let’s see how long this one lasts.”

Bayo said, “Catalans don’t have the tools or the strength to pull this off. The bigger and stronger always wins.

“I saw this during Franco’s time, and I will see it again,” he said, referring to the 40-year dictatorship of Francisco Franco that began during Spain’s civil war and did not end until the general’s death in 1975.

José Zaragoza, 54, a businessman, said, “Today I woke up very happy, the first day of the republic, which was chosen in a legal way — by politicians chosen in a legal way, backed by a legal referendum.”

He said he was surprised to see the Spanish flag still flying over Catalan government offices.

Javier del Valle, 33, a computer engineer, said: “A lot of my family, who don’t believe in independence for Catalonia, think this is all a lot of nonsense. My work mates who are pro-independence, I don’t think they see Catalonia as a new nation, but view the declaration as a symbolic gesture and part of a strategy to achieve a political goal.”

Ricard Valls, 22, is a university student who hopes for an independent Catalan republic someday. But he is doubtful the region’s leaders can pull it off now. “It makes me sad for the people who truly believe this will happen,” he said.

Barcelona’s mayor, Ada Colau, sought a middle ground but still spoke in blunt language.

In a lengthy Facebook post late Friday under the title “not in my name,” Colau said she was disgusted to see the Spanish prime minister applauded by senators for declaring the takeover of Catalonia.

"Were they applauding his failure?" she wrote. "Those who have been incapable of proposing a single solution, incapable of listening or of governing for all, have enacted a coup against democracy today with the annihilation of Catalan self-government."

But at the same time, the Barcelona mayor said the pro-independence parties in Catalonia were “advancing at a kamikaze pace after their mistaken reading of the results of the Catalan elections. Their speed has been the result of partisan interests, a headlong dash that has been consummated today with a Declaration of Independence in the name of Catalonia that doesn’t have the support of a majority of Catalans.”

In a Europe where change is usually slow and incremental, the fast-moving events in Catalonia were a surprise for a continent riven by waves of populism and nationalism.

Two historic votes — one for independence, one to restore constitutional order — came in dueling sessions of parliaments in Barcelona and Madrid on Friday.

They both can’t hold.

More than 2 million people cast ballots for independence in early October. But critics say the turnout for the referendum was 43 percent of eligible voters, according to a count by the separatists.

During the chaotic referendum, Spanish national police and paramilitary officers used harsh tactics, in some cases whipping voters with rubber batons and dragging people away from the ballot boxes. That memory remains, and people are wary of a replay now.

Pamela Rolfe in Madrid and Raul Gallego Abellan in Barcelona contributed to this report.

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