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Catalans go back to work after Spanish Government takes charge

A Catalan and a Spanish flag flutter on top of the Palau Generalitat in Barcelona, Spain, early Monday Oct. 30, 2017. Hundreds of thousands of Catalans took to the streets of Barcelona Sunday to call for their region to remain part of Spain, two days after regional lawmakers exacerbated a political crisis by voting for the wealthy region to secede. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

Catalonia's civil servants have returned to work for the first time since Spain's central government rejected an independence declaration by imposing direct control.

Madrid warned that sacked regional leaders face criminal charges if they attempt to perform any official duties.

Catalans are waiting to see if the ousted leaders will defy their firing and face arrest, escalating a political crisis that already appears to have no easy way out.

Speculation raged about the whereabouts of the dismissed Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and his deposed cabinet, whose reaction will be key to whether Madrid's takeover will be smooth or face opposition.

As staff arrived at the headquarters of the Catalan government in Barcelona, Sr Puigdemont posted a photo on Instagram of a courtyard at the seat of the regional presidency building. Both the Catalan and Spanish national flags waved from the top of the building.

The ambiguous Instagram post, accompanied by the words "Good morning" in Catalan and a smiley emoticon, left many guessing whether he was inside the building. There was no indication of when the photo was taken.

As dozens of journalists, curious onlookers and bemused tourists gathered in the square outside the Gothic government palace in central Barcelona, at least one portrait of Sr Puigdemont was still hanging on a wall inside the Generalitat building.

He is likely to be accused of rebellion on Monday for pushing ahead with secession. Spain's government has said the ousted leaders could be charged with usurping others' functions if they attempt to carry on working.

At least one member of the ousted government defied his dismissal by showing up at work and posting a photo on Twitter from his formal office.

"In the office, exercising the responsibilities entrusted to us by the people of Catalonia," said Josep Rull, who until last week was the region's senior official in charge of territorial affairs.

Two police officers entered and left the building, followed minutes later by Sr Rull, who told reporters and supporters that he would continue carrying out his agenda.

Spanish authorities say deposed officials will be allowed to take their personal belongings from official buildings, but are barred from performing any official duties.

Interior minister Juan Ignacio Zoido said the government was giving the separatist politicians "a few hours" of time because the goal was "to recover normality in a discreet way and under the principle of minimal intervention" from central authorities.

Sr Zoido is also hosting a meeting in Madrid with the new head of the Catalan police and other officials in the home affairs department of the troubled region.

Catalonia's regional parliament proclaimed independence from Spain in a secret ballot on Friday. The Spanish government dissolved the legislature, fired the government and regional police chief and called a new election for December 21.

The vote to secede came after an October 1 referendum in favour of independence that was deemed illegal by Spain's constitutional court.

Sr Puigdemont has vowed peaceful and "democratic opposition" to his cabinet's dismissal, but has not clarified if that means accepting an early regional election as a way out of the deadlock.

PIC: AP Photo/Manu Fernandez

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