Sat, Sep 09, 2017 - Page 6 News List

Madrid seeks to block Catalonia vote

DEMOCRACY:Catalan President Carles Puigdemont said 560 municipalities had committed their support for the referendum and 16,000 volunteers have registered

AFP, MADRID

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy on Thursday vowed to block an independence referendum in Catalonia slated for Oct. 1 which he branded an “intolerable act of disobedience,” but Catalan leaders vowed to go ahead with it, even after the nation’s top court intervened at the central government’s request in an effort to prevent the vote.

Rajoy promised earlier in the day he would do “all that is necessary” to prevent the plebiscite in the wealthy northeastern region from being held.

Catalonia’s regional parliament, which is controlled by separatists, on Wednesday voted to push ahead with the referendum, sparking the nation’s deepest political crisis in 40 years.

“This referendum, no matter how much they try to impose it in a hasty, amateur and illegal way, will not take place,” Rajoy said.

He said all 947 mayors in Catalonia would be warned over their “obligation to impede or paralyze” efforts to carry out the vote, which he said is unconstitutional.

As was widely expected, the Spanish Constitutional Court suspended the texts passed by the Catalan parliament to stage the referendum, while judges consider arguments that the vote breaches the nation’s constitution.

According to court regulations, the suspension lasts for five months while judges come up with a ruling.

The court has since 2014 declared regional independence referendums to be unconstitutional, but Catalan authorities routinely ignore the court’s decisions because they do not recognize its legitimacy.

Spain’s top prosecutor said voting materials would be seized and “criminal charges are being prepared” against the leaders of the Catalan parliament, as well all members of the regional government for signing the referendum decree.

General prosecutor Jose Manuel Maza told reporters the officials could be charged, among other things, with disobedience, abuse of power and embezzlement.

Maza called on police to seize anything that could be used in the voting and accused Catalonia’s government of “blatantly disobeying” repeated rulings by the Constitutional Court against steps to hold an independence referendum.

The warnings were brushed aside by Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, who said 560 municipalities had already committed their support for the referendum and 16,000 volunteers have registered to help with the vote.

He sent a letter to Catalonia’s mayors on Thursday asking them to give notice within 48 hours of what locations they could make available for ballot stations.

“No Cabinet, no discredited court will suspend democracy in Catalonia,” Puigdemont said during an interview with Catalan TV. “In the face of the tsunami of lawsuits there will be a tsunami of democracy.”

In the early hours of yesterday morning, the separatist majority in Catalonia’s regional parliament passed a second controversial law which outlines the terms of a transition to a Catalan Republic, independent from Spain. The law is meant to take effect only if the separatists win the referendum.

Catalonia accounts for about one-fifth of Spain’s economic output and already has significant powers over matters such as education and healthcare, but Spain’s economic worries, coupled with a perception that the region pays more in taxes than it receives in investments and transfers from Madrid, have helped push the cause of secession from the fringes of Catalan politics to center stage.

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