BARCELONA, Spain – Catalans are voting in in crucial elections called by the Spanish government after it sacked the former regional cabinet and dissolved the local parliament following a declaration of independence.
The vote on Thursday will show the strength of the pro-independence movement following the Spanish government's intervention and October's failed secession bid.
Catalonia, one of Spain's 17 autonomous regions, has a population of around 7.5 million people and includes the tourist-popular Mediterranean port of Barcelona, the country's second-largest city.
The region has its own language as well as Spanish and generates a fifth of Spain's 1.1 trillion-euro ($1.3 trillion) economy. Polls consistently show most Catalans want the right to decide their future in a referendum but are evenly divided over splitting from Spain.
Here is a look at the events leading up to the election:
— 2006: Spain's central government and Catalan authorities agree on devolving more powers to the northeastern region, including finance, health care and education.
— 2008: Spain, along with many others in Europe, enters a multi-year financial crisis that eventually leads to belt-tightening, recession and mass unemployment. Many Catalans feel their wealthy region could do better on its own.
— 2010: Spain's Constitutional Court strikes down key parts of the 2006 charter, inadvertently breathing new life into the secession movement. Pro-independence parties win a regional election.
— Sept. 11, 2012: A huge turnout for Catalonia's national day parade provides a show of force for the independence movement.
— March 2014: The Constitutional Court rules against Catalan plans for an independence vote, saying all Spaniards must decide the country's future.
— Nov. 9, 2014: The Catalan government holds an independence referendum despite the ban. Less than half the electorate votes and 80 percent choose secession.
— September 2015: The European Union says an independent Catalonia won't be allowed to stay in the bloc. Catalonia's pro-independence parties narrowly win most seats but less than a majority of votes in new election.
— June 9, 2017: Catalan President Carlos Puigdemont announces a new binding vote on independence for Oct. 1.
— Sept. 7, 2017: Spain's Constitutional Court suspends the ballot.
— Sept. 11, 2017: Pro-independence supporters pack downtown Barcelona again to celebrate Catalonia's national day.
— Sept. 29, 2017: Spain vows to block the Oct. 1 ballot.
— Oct. 1, 2017: Spanish police use force to try to halt the referendum, and hundreds of people, including police, are injured.
— Oct. 2, 2017: Catalan officials say preliminary results show 90 percent of votes cast were in favor of independence.
— Oct. 8, 2017: Hundreds of thousands of people opposing independence rally in Barcelona.
— Oct. 11, 2017: The EU backs Spain's handling of the crisis.
— Oct. 16, 2017: Leaders of Catalonia's two powerful pro-independence civic groups are jailed on possible charges of sedition.
— Oct. 27, 2017: Separatist lawmakers declare independence in a session boycotted by opposition parties. Spain's Senate authorizes the government to seize control of the region.
— Oct. 28, 2017: The national government sacks the Catalan government, dissolves the regional parliament and calls fresh elections for Dec. 21.
— Oct. 30, 2017: Puigdemont flees to Brussels.
—Nov. 2, 2017: A judge jails nine ex-members of Puigdemont's government on provisional charges of rebellion.
—Nov. 3, 2017: International arrest order issued for Puigdemont and other fugitive ex-cabinet members.
—Dec. 5, 2017: A Spanish judge drops European arrest warrants for Puigdemont and others but warns they face arrest on return to Spain. Political parties, two of them with candidates in jail or seeking refuge from arrest, start campaigning for the election.