A determined Catalonia has formally called an independence referendum and has set the date for 9 November, putting it on a collision course with the Spanish government.
Catalan President Artur Mas signed the decree in a ceremony at the regional government’s headquarters in the city of Barcelona today.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is expected to chair an emergency cabinet meeting in Madrid on Monday to discuss a blocking of the vote via Spain’s Constitutional Court.
The fiercely nationalistic region - some parts of which have been trying to break apart from the rest of Spain for some decades - made moves to prepare for an independence referendum earlier this month on the same day that Scotland’s vote returned ‘no’.
“Like all the nations of the world, Catalonia has the right to decide its political future,” Mr Mas said today.
“We want to vote and we want to decide and now we have to means to do so,” he added, despite the Spanish government insisting that the referendum is illegal and unconstitutional.
During a speech given in Catalan, Spanish and English, after ratifying the vote, Mr Mas said, according to Reuters: “As all the nations in the world, Catalonia has the right to decide its political future... We believe that political issues must be resolved by negotiation and civilised attitudes. And we know that democracy is the most civilised way to resolve difficulties between nations.”
However, Madrid says that a referendum on sovereignty that does not include all Spaniards is against the country’s 1978 constitution.
It also argues that Catalonia, an economically prosperous area of Spain, also has a large degree of autonomy including control of its police force and its own parliament.
As Mr Mas called the referendum, hundreds of pro-independence supporters congregated outside the government building, waving flags and banners which read “Live free or die” and “We are a nation”.
A ‘yes’ vote for the Catalans would not immediately result in secession, but could be leveraged by Mr Mas to engage independence negotiations.
He says he will not do anything illegal and will pursue the matter through democratic means.
“No government, nobody, is above the law because nobody is above the sovereign will of all the Spanish people,” Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Saenz de Santamaria said in a press conference.
“We deeply regret this, and believe the Catalan President's initiative is a mistake. It fractures the Catalan society, divides the Catalan people and distances them from Europe and the spirit of the times.”
Oriol Junqueras, the leader of left-leaning pro-nationalist party ERC has previously suggested that civil disobedience could occur should the vote be vetoed, while a Spanish judges’ association warned that the organisers of an illegal referendum could face up to 15 years in prison.
Additional reporting by agencies
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