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Catalonia fights on for independence vote

30th September 2014, Comments 0 comments

Catalan leaders launched a legal battle Tuesday to get their drive for a referendum on independence from Spain back on track after a court suspended it.

Angry separatists in the region planned protests after Spain's Constitutional Court halted the plan to hold the vote on November 9.

The speaker of the wealthy northeastern region's parliament, Nuria de Gispert, said the assembly would demand that the court "immediately lift" its suspension of the referendum.

The court on Monday suspended the non-binding referendum following an appeal from Spain's central government that says the vote is unconstitutional.

The court's unanimous decision to hear the government's case triggered the automatic suspension of the referendum until judges can hear arguments and make a decision.

The Catalan government had launched a publicity campaign to inform voters about the referendum after the region's president Artur Mas on Saturday signed a decree calling for the vote to be held on November 9.

But it halted that campaign on Tuesday in the wake of the court's ruling even as it vowed to fight to hold the referendum.

The Catalan government's spokesman Francesc Homs said it had stopped the campaign so as not to put the region's civil servants in a delicate situation by making them work on a banned referendum.

"We do not want to put the public workers' backs against the wall," he told a news conference.

"Nothing has ended and the government is determined to move forward. We can't give the signal that we have given up."

The Catalan National Assembly, a powerful pressure group pushing for the independence vote, urged its supporters to gather outside town halls across Catalonia at 7:00 pm (1700 GMT) to protest against the court's ruling.

"Today we start building a new country! At 7:00 pm everyone outside of your town halls! Now is the time, it's up to us!" the group said in a Twitter message.

- 'Divides Catalans' -

Spain's conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said he "deeply" regretted Mas's move, saying it "divides Catalans, alienates them from Europe and the rest of Spain and seriously harms their welfare".

In a televised address to the nation on Monday, he said the right to decide a region's status belonged to "all the Spanish people" under the country's 1978 constitution -- the keystone of Spain's democracy after the death of the dictator Francisco Franco.

Buoyed by mass street demonstrations and inspired by Scotland's independence referendum, Mas has pushed ahead for a vote in defiance of Rajoy's warnings.

"The future is something you conquer, not a gift, and we have to earn that," he said during an interview with Catalan television on Saturday.

Catalans are proud of their language and culture and many of the region's 7.5 million inhabitants feel 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 2006 but Spain's Constitutional Court later overruled that claim.

Mas is under pressure from the pro-independence Catalan Republican Left (ERC), the left-leaning party that props up his Convergence and Union (CiU) grouping in parliament, to defy the court order.

Earlier this month, ERC leader Oriol Junqueras said that Catalans should consider civil disobedience, "just like Martin Luther King," if the central government denied them the chance to vote.

Mas has hinted that if the central government blocks the independence vote he could call an early regional election that would act as a plebiscite on the issue.

Polls suggest the ERC could make big gains if Mas were to call early elections, leaving Madrid facing a Catalan government more fiercely set on independence.

© 2014 AFP

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