Catalans back deal for more autonomy from Spain

19th June 2006, Comments 0 comments

19 June 2006, BARCELONA — Catalans overwhelmingly approved a referendum on Sunday to give the northeastern Spanish region even greater autonomy from Spain.

19 June 2006

BARCELONA — Catalans overwhelmingly approved a referendum on Sunday to give the northeastern Spanish region even greater autonomy from Spain.

The autonomy deal was backed by 73.9 percent of the votes counted, while 20.76 percent were against and 5.34 percent abstained.

But only 49.4 percent of the 5.3 million eligible voters turned out on Sunday.

José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero praised the "very broad majority" of the region's residents who voted for the referendum, saying that "the Catalans have spoken clearly".

He added that his government would provide its "loyal collaboration" in the process of implementing the new statute.

And the Socialist head of the regional Catalan government, Pasqual Maragall, said a "long ... positive ... and more comfortable" phase of self-government was beginning for Catalonia within a pluralistic Spain that continues to "advance".

An exit poll by Ipsos Eco Consulting found  74-77 percent of the voters cast their ballots in favour of the measure, versus 19-21 percent who voted against it.

The low turnout matched expectations for the referendum on expanded powers for the region, an issue that has bitterly divided Spaniards.

The campaign for the referendum on the new autonomy statute ended Friday with the Socialists - who hold power in both Madrid and Barcelona, the regional capital - urging a "yes" vote.

The conservative opposition Popular Party (PP), called on Catalans to reject the measure.

The text, which expands the considerable powers of self-government that Catalonia already enjoys under the statute of  1979, has provoked a heated debate in Spain about the nature of nationhood and the future of the Spanish state.

The proposal had been expected to win by a comfortable margin, according to polls ahead of the vote.

Joining the PP in calling for defeat of the statute was the pro-independence ERC.

The ERC said the deal was "insufficient".

The row over autonomy deal, both in the national Parliament and on the streets, has been intense.

The PP denounced the statute as unconstitutional because of a passage in the document's preamble referring to Catalonia as a nation, and because it allegedly violated the principle of "solidarity" enshrined in the 1978 Spanish Constitution.

Among Spanish politicians, "solidarity" is shorthand for the subsidies that flow from wealthier regions - like Catalonia - to relatively poorer ones.

The new autonomy statute would allow Barcelona to reduce such transfer payments.

The Right also condemned the Socialist government in Madrid for pushing through the change without the PP's consent and thereby shattered the constitutional consensus that allowed the original autonomy statutes for various regions to be approved within four years of the 1975 death of dictator Francisco Franco.

Zapatero claims Spain is strengthened by recognising the diversity among its regions, some of which, notably Catalonia and the Basque region, have their own distinct languages and cultures.

A majority of Catalonia's 6.7 million residents speak Catalan.

Beyond Catalonia, both the result of the referendum and the level of turnout will be analysed for what they indicate about the state of the battle that has raged between the Socialists and the PP since Zapatero's upset victory in the March 2004 election, ending eight years of PP rule.

Zapatero hopes to gain momentum from this, his first big test, for dealing with another key challenge: pursuing a peace process with the Basque terrorist group ETA, which killed more than 800 people in its nearly four-decade campaign for an independent state before announcing a "permanent cease-fire" three months ago.

[Copyright EFE with Expatica]

Subject: Spanish news

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