Catalan ruling party says nationhood campaign alive
Catalonia's ruling party vowed Tuesday to hold a referendum on self-determination, spearheading a fight to split from Spain despite a weekend election setback.
Still smarting from Sunday's vote, which slashed its majority, the governing Convergence and Union alliance said Catalans had nevertheless supported its proposal of a referendum.
Though votes for the ruling alliance fell, support for another pro-independence group surged.
"There will have to be a consultation because it is a mandate from the people of Catalonia, we have to be true to the mandate," Catalan government spokesman Francesc Homs said.
The timing of the poll would be decided by the northeastern region's government, Homs told local radio.
Catalan president Artur Mas's centre-right alliance remained well ahead in the vote but its share of the 135 parliamentary seats plunged from 62 to just 50.
Republican Left of Catalonia, a left-wing pro-independence party, surged from 10 seats to 21.
The results mean pro-sovereignty parties from right and left have a clear combined majority, but the prospects of them joining in battle for a new nation of 7.5 million people remain uncertain.
Homs said the weekend vote was "not good" for his party, admitting the result had been unexpected and "overwhelming", but he insisted it could be seen as a trial for a popular consultation of Catalans.
"There is no turning back," he said.
The emergence of an independent Catalonia seems a distant prospect, however.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has vowed to block any break-up of Spain, saying it flouts the constitution.
The Spanish leader is demanding unity as he ponders seeking a bailout and struggles to overcome a deep recession, banking crisis, bloated deficit, and a 25-percent unemployment rate.
Rajoy did not call the Catalan leader to congratulate him on his election win, Homs said.
Mas has promised to stand by his campaign promise to organise a popular consultation on self-determination for Catalonia within four years of a new term.
Finding a deal between the Republican Left of Catalonia and the ruling Convergence and Union alliance, which is pushing through austerity measures to trim the public deficit.
The left-wing party is demanding lower taxes for the poor, while the ruling party's spokesman predicted budget cuts in 2013 and said there was "not much margin for discussion on the numbers".
Catalonia, which traces its origins back more than a millennium, is proud of its language and culture, both of which were suppressed under the rule of General Francisco Franco, who died in 1975.
But Catalans feel they get a raw deal from Madrid, which raises far more from Catalonia in taxes than it returns to the bustling region, a shortfall Mas estimates at 16 billion euros ($21 billion).
Catalonia, which has a debt of more than 40 billion euros, had to go cap in hand to Madrid this year for more than five billion euros to help make the payments, further stoking resentment.
Fitch Ratings warned Tuesday that Catalonia would likely have to seek yet more financial help from Madrid in 2013 to finance its borrowings from domestic banks.
At the same time, the wealthy region is being forced to cut spending on health, education and social welfare so as to help trim Spain's annual public deficit.
Encouraged by a huge pro-independence march in Barcelona on September 11, Mas decided to seek greater taxing powers from Madrid. After being rebuffed, he called the regional elections two years early and promised to seek a referendum on self-determination.
Catalans would vote in favour of independence in a referendum by 46 percent against 42 percent, according to a survey before the election in leading daily El Pais.
The region now accounts for more than one-fifth of Spain's economic output and a quarter of its exports, and boasts one of the world's finest football teams, Barcelona FC.
© 2012 AFP