Catalan leader says 'everything ready' for contested vote

10th September 2017, Comments 0 comments

Catalonia's president said Sunday his pro-separatist government had "everything ready" for an October 1 independence referendum that has been outlawed by Spain's central government and courts.

He spoke on the eve of Catalonia's national day, when pro-independence protesters will hit the streets of Barcelona in response to Madrid's bid to stop the referendum from going ahead.

"The (regional) government now has everything ready so that on Sunday October 1, Catalans can vote, as they have always done, in total normalcy, (so that) those that want to vote 'yes' and those that will vote 'no' can do so," Catalonia's President Carles Puigdemont said during a speech broadcast on Catalan television.

To stage the vote the Catalan government has had to print ballot papers, draw up electoral lists, establish where polling stations will be and set up an electoral authority, doing so in complete discretion to skirt the central government's opposition.

Spain's Constitutional Court has suspended a referendum law that was fast-tracked through Catalonia's regional parliament on Wednesday.

State prosecutors have also targeted Puigdemont and other members of his government with lawsuits for possible disobedience, abuse of power and embezzlement charges and urged public workers and firms not to participate in the referendum.

"It is a legal referendum, according to the laws which were approved by the Catalan parliament", Puigdemont said defiantly.

"Only the parliament of Catalonia can disqualify the government that I preside. There is no other judicial or political body that can do so."

- 'Ballot boxes unite' -

If the "Yes" side wins the referendum, Catalonia's regional government has vowed to declare independence within 48 hours.

The referendum call has ramped up tensions between Catalonia and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's conservative government in Madrid, which has vowed to do everything necessary to block the vote.

He argues that the Spanish constitution does not allow regions to unilaterally decide on sovereignty -- a position backed by the Constitutional Court.

Catalonia, a region of 7.5 million residents in northeastern Spain that is roughly the same size as Belgium, is an economic powerhouse, proud of its culture and language.

But Catalan society is deeply divided over independence.

In a survey by the Catalan Centre of Opinion Studies in July, 41.1 percent backed independence while 49.9 percent rejected it. Some 70 percent wanted a referendum, however, to settle the question once and for all.

Puigdemont rejected the argument that his government's separatist push was splitting Catalan society.

"Ballot boxes unite, they do not divide," Puigdemont said. "What divides, what degrades democracy, is not letting people vote."


© 2017 AFP

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