Catalans back independence in partial symbolic vote
Ninety-four percent of those who voted Sunday called for Catalonia to become a social, democratic and independent state.Barcelona – Parts of Catalonia backed independence for the wealthy Spanish region in a referendum held Sunday, but the vote was only symbolic and attracted a turnout of just 30 percent.
An overwhelming 94 percent of those who voted said 'yes' to the question: "Do you agree that Catalonia become a social, democratic and independent state, and member of the European Union?"
But only about 10 percent of the northeastern region's population of more than seven million were called on to cast ballots by the organisers, in 166 selected towns and villages.
The polls, organised by local associations and supported by some political parties and unions, have no legal significance as referendums must be mandated by the central government in order to be official.
But organisers hoped that a result in favour of independence, coupled with a good turnout, would push the issue up the political agenda throughout Spain.
The organisers, grouped under the umbrella organisation The Popular Consultation on the Independence of the Catalan Nation, reported turnout at 30 percent, less than the 40 percent they had hoped for and 20 points below that for a referendum three years ago to approve the region's statute of autonomy.
"Anyone who is looking will find ample arguments to disregard the value of this referendum as a social barometer," said the newspaper El Pais in an editorial Monday.
"It is obvious that it was just an amusement organised by and for the separatists, so that those who are not (separatists) were not very motivated to vote."
A sizeable minority in Catalonia would like to see the northeastern region, which has its own Catalan language and distinct culture, break away from Spain.
They complain that the region, which is heavily industrialised and accounts for 25 percent of Spain's gross domestic product, contributes far more to the Spanish economy than it gets in return.
"Catalonia is dying, they are killing it and we must react," Joan Laporta, the chairman of Barcelona football club, told the El Pais on Sunday.
"No Catalan can accept the fiscal pillaging that we are suffering nor the attacks on the rights and freedoms of Catalonia."
"I am voting because I am fed up with how they (the central government) look down on us, how they steal from us, how Catalonia is stripped of its resources," said Ferran Martinez, a 59-year-old businessman in San Cugat del Valles, a town of some 60,000 people near Barcelona.
"We are losing purchasing power, our companies are losing competitiveness... We need to build our own state."
Further referendums are planned in other parts of the region, including the capital of Barcelona and the cities of Girona and Lleida, early next year.
Sunday's vote came as Spain's Constitutional Court prepares to rule on the legality of the region's statute of autonomy, with fears that a negative decision could fuel separatist sentiment.
The statute, approved by the Spanish parliament and endorsed by Catalan voters in a 2006 referendum, gave the regional parliament enhanced powers.
Most controversially, the statute describes the region as a "nation" within Spain.
A rejection by the court "would be an unacceptable humiliation for Catalans", said Barcelona football club chief Laporta.
Teams of international observers from regions of the world with independence or secessionist movements attended Sunday's vote.
They include a representative of the Scottish National Party, Christopher White, a member of Ireland's Catholic republican Sinn Fein party, Joe Reilly, and others from Italy's South Tyrol region, the French island of Corsica, Belgium's Flemish region and from the province of Quebec in Canada.
Also observing the vote were political representatives from Spain's northern Galicia and Basque regions, which both have independence movements.
AFP / Expatica