Catalonia leader vows 2017 referendum on Spain independence

Carles Puigdemont speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Barcelona, Spain, 16 December Image copyright 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 copyright 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.

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