Catalans defy Spanish court in independence duel

3rd October 2014, Comments 0 comments

Catalan leaders forged ahead on Friday for a vote on independence, defying a court challenge by the national government in their bid to redraw the map of Spain.

Under pressure to strike a common front after Spain's Constitutional Court provisionally blocked their plan for the vote, parties in the northeastern region opted for a legal gamble.

"We have agreed to maintain the election decree so that citizens can exercise their right to vote on November 9," the Catalan regional government spokesman Francesc Homs told reporters in Barcelona.

Catalan pro-independence parties were locked in meetings to forge a common front in the tense standoff which threatens to trigger Spain's biggest constitutional crisis in decades.

The central government has vowed to defend the unity of Spain against the drive for independence for Catalonia.

Fired up by last month's independence referendum in Scotland -- although voters there rejected independence -- hundreds of thousands of Catalans have protested in the streets over recent weeks demanding their own vote.

In another move of defiance on Friday, Catalonia's moderate conservative government formally decreed the creation of a commission to supervise the ballot.

The national government will ask the Constitutional Court to suspend that decree, just as it has suspended other Catalan legislation this week over the vote, said Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria.

"No one in Spain can say on their own authority what is legal and what is not. That is a matter for the courts," she told a news conference.

"This government has an obligation to obey the law and to make sure it is obeyed, because it has an obligation to make sure everyone respects democracy."

- 'Civil disobedience' -

Catalonia's president Artur Mas is walking a legal and political tightrope, under pressure from hardline separatists to push on with a potentially illegal vote, fiercely opposed by Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

Spain's opposition Socialist party also opposes independence for Catalonia but has called for a federal constitutional reform to answer Catalan demands.

The Socialists' leader Pedro Sanchez criticised Rajoy on Twitter, saying his inflexible stance was "fuel for separatists".

Mas had previously promised to respect the law in his drive for a non-binding vote on whether the region should break away.

He had this week suspended the official information campaign for the poll after the court's ruling to avoid any action that could be considered illegal.

But he faces an undertow of fierce separatist yearning in the street and among his political allies.

Members of the left-wing Catalan nationalist party ERC, which props up Mas's CiU coalition in the regional parliament, has called for "civil disobedience" against the court order.

Mas's government has unblocked nearly nine million euros to fund the referendum but has not said when it will start organising the ballots to have them ready for November 9 -- and time is running out.

Proud of their distinct language and culture, many of Catalonia's 7.5 million inhabitants have long complained they get a raw deal from the government in Madrid, which decides how their taxes are spent.

Catalonia formally adopted the status of a "nation" in a 2006 charter that increased its autonomy, but the Constitutional Court overruled that nationhood claim, fuelling pro-independence feeling.

Spain's recent economic crisis has increased unemployment and hardship in the region and swelled its debts, but in 2012 Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy rejected Mas's request for greater powers for Catalonia to tax and spend.

Now the clock is ticking for Mas, a moderate nationalist, who has called the vote for six weeks from now.

Media have speculated he may stake his leadership by calling a snap regional election to serve as a plebiscite on independence.


© 2014 AFP

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