Catalonia presses ahead with symbolic Spain secession vote

Catalan regional leader Artur Mas speaking in Barcelona, 14 October Image copyright AP
Image caption Mr Mas had scathing words for the Spanish government

The head of Spain's Catalonia's region has said a non-binding vote on independence will go ahead on 9 November, in defiance of Madrid.

The "consultation" vote called by Artur Mas was suspended by the Constitutional Court last month after a challenge by the central government.

However, Mr Mas said he could use a different legal framework to proceed.

Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy had earlier welcomed reports that the vote was being called off.

The government has portrayed the vote as an actual referendum and argues that it cannot be held without the consent of the Spanish state.

Economic and cultural grievances have fuelled Catalan nationalism.

The wealthy region of 7.5 million people contributes more to the Spanish economy than it gets back through central government funds.

Like other Spanish regions, it enjoys a degree of autonomy but campaigners accuse Madrid of recently seeking to undermine Catalan in favour of Spanish as the main language of instruction in schools.

'A bit pathetic'

On Monday evening, the Catalan regional government reportedly announced to a meeting of pro-consultation parties that the vote was off.

But on a morning of high drama at government house in Barcelona, Mr Mas went before reporters to say the vote would still be held, with the same two questions about independence within Spain and full independence.

"The vote on 9 November can be considered the preparatory vote before the definitive one," he explained.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption A student in Barcelona wears a white mask with a black cross across the mouth at a protest last week over the blocking of the referendum

The "definitive" vote, he explained, would be a new election in Catalonia.

The vote will be run by volunteers and will have no formal electoral roll, leading one local analyst, Josep Ramoneda, to remark that it looked "a bit pathetic", according to AFP news agency.

Outlining the preparations for the 9 November vote, Mr Mas said: "There will be ballots and ballot boxes. We can't apply the decree [to hold a referendum] but it will be possible to vote."

The two questions

"Do you want Catalonia to be a state?

"If so, do you want Catalonia to be an independent state?"

Catalonia's quarrel with Spain

Catalan municipal buildings will be used for the vote, so Spanish government support will not be required, he said.

"The Catalan government has jurisdiction over consulting popular opinion," Mr Mas insisted.

Barb for Rajoy

The Catalan leader had strong words for Spain and Prime Minister Rajoy, who has refused to countenance a Scottish-style referendum in Catalonia.

"The real adversary is the Spanish state, which has done everything to stop us voting," he said.

Earlier on Tuesday, Prime Minister Rajoy had welcomed the apparent scrapping of the vote and called for "dialogue".

Image copyright Twitter
Image caption "Mas game over" trended on Twitter - with a photo used by bloggers to mock the referendum (Mr Rajoy is on the right)

"The fact that the referendum is not taking place is excellent news," he said at an event in Madrid.

Mr Mas said in response: "Sometimes such news lasts just a few hours."

Asked what would happen if Madrid tried to block the vote in its new form, he said: "That depends on us and we won't make it so easy for the Spanish state this time to block it."

Alicia Sanchez-Camacho, head of Mr Rajoy's Popular Party in Catalonia, described the 9 November vote as an "opinion poll".

Spanish social media reflected the increasingly bitter divisions over Catalonia's future.

MasGameOver was a top trending topic on Spanish Twitter on Tuesday morning, with pro-Spanish bloggers sharing a photo of Mr Rajoy smiling.

Meanwhile, pro-Catalonia bloggers flagged up the remark by Mr Mas about Spain being the "real adversary", with the words "Estado Espanol" ("Spanish state") also trending.

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