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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 25 June 2018

Catalonia set for independence vote in October

The northern area of Spain centred around Barcelona will go to the polls to decide on self-determination for the region

Catalonia regional President Carles Puigdemont, right, applauds next to vice-president Oriol Junqueras, left, after the decision to call a referendum on a split from Spain
Catalonia regional President Carles Puigdemont, right, applauds next to vice-president Oriol Junqueras, left, after the decision to call a referendum on a split from Spain

The northern Spanish region of Catalonia has defied the national constitution and endorsed a decree that will see voters in the 7.5-million-people-strong region asked whether they want to secede from the country in a vote on October 1.

Regional President Carles Puigdemont signed a decree that officially calls for a "self-determination referendum of Catalonia" to be held on October 1. His entire cabinet, which includes politicians from various pro-independence parties, also approved the document to dilute responsibility in case of prosecution.

The referendum clashes with the Spanish constitution, which only gives national authorities the right to call such a vote. But Catalonia's pro-independence lawmakers approved a bill on Wednesday that provides a legal justification for the independence vote.

“The concept of a state and patriotic unities that go beyond the rights of citizens don’t have a place in today’s Europe,” Puigdemont said. “Catalonia belongs to this world that looks forward, and that’s why it will decide its own future on the 1st of October.”

A central government official told The Associated Press that Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy has urged the country’s top legal consultative body to review the bill. The official said Madrid is expected to challenge the law in the country’s constitutional court on Thursday.

Catalonia’s renewed push for secession has opened one of Spain’s deepest political and institutional crises of recent years. Although much of the blame has been put on the pro-independence bloc in the regional parliament, Rajoy’s conservative government has been criticised for letting the situation get this far.

Puigdemont’s government claims it has a democratic mandate to seek a binding independence referendum based on the universal right to self-determination. However, approval for the referendum law came after more than 11 hours of heated debate.

The support of 72 pro-independence lawmakers was enough to pass the measure, but 52 opposition members of parliament walked out in protest before the voting started. Eleven lawmakers abstained from voting.

The parliamentary debate in Barcelona saw tensions flare when the regional body’s top speaker, Carme Forcadell, announced that a vote on the bill would proceed before the legislation had undergone the customary legal vetting. The vote had not appeared on the day’s agenda until the very last minute.

Spain’s public prosecutor announced it was readying legal paperwork to sue the speakers, including Forcadell, for disobeying previous constitutional court orders and for abusing power.

Ines Arrimadas, the leader of Ciudadanos (Citizens) —the main opposition party in Catalonia— also announced that she would seek parliamentary support for a no-confidence vote against Puigdemont in an effort to force new regional elections.

The Spanish government is trying to strike a delicate balance between offsetting the secessionist defiance and staying away from more dramatic measures that would further inflame anti-Spanish sentiments, such as suspending Catalonia’s autonomous powers or declaring a state of emergency that would bring the army into the mix.