Catalonia leader vows 2017 referendum on Spain independence

Image source, AP
Image caption,
Carles Puigdemont took office just over a year ago

Spain's Catalonia region seems set on a new collision course with Madrid after a vow by its leader to hold an independence referendum in 2017.

Catalan President Carles Puigdemont promised a "legal and binding" vote in his televised New Year's speech.

A consultative ballot in 2014, which recorded a large majority for independence, was ignored by Spain.

Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy has again ruled out the possibility of a referendum.

Embracing Spain's second city, Barcelona, Catalonia is one of the country's richest regions.

Separatist sentiment has built into a mass movement over the past five years, promoting a distinct Catalan identity which goes back centuries.

In his video address (in Catalan), Mr Puigdemont said: "We Catalans will freely decide our own future through a legal and binding referendum."

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Catalan nationalists protested this week at continuing legal action against their politicians

Such a vote is expected to take place in September, based on a resolution passed by the Catalan parliament, where separatists hold a majority of seats.

Speaking on Friday, PM Rajoy said: "It is not possible to hold a referendum that will do away with national sovereignty and the equality of Spaniards.

"This is not going anywhere, I'm offering something which is a lot more reasonable - dialogue. I ask that no more steps are taken in the opposite direction."

Mr Rajoy and his conservative Popular Party recently won opposition support to rule as a minority government following an inconclusive general election in June.

Catalan officials involved in holding the outlawed 2014 ballot have since faced sanctions or trial.