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Spain vows to block vote as Catalan leaders announce date for independence poll

As Catalan political chief Artur Mas unveiled the date and wording of the poll, Spanish leader Mariano Rajoy refused even to countenance a break-up of the nation.

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People wave “the Estelada” flags and demand the independence of Catalonia. Pic: (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

SPANISH PRIME MINISTER Mariano Rajoy has vowed  to block an attempt by Catalan leaders to hold an independence referendum on 9 November 2014.

A few hours after Catalan political chief Artur Mas unveiled the date and wording of the poll, the Spanish leader refused even to countenance a break-up of the nation.

“It is unconstitutional and it will not take place,” Rajoy told a news conference.

“This initiative collides head-on with the foundation of the constitution which is the indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation,” the conservative premier said.

Mas’ governing alliance and other nationalist parties in the region had agreed to put two questions to voters next year:

- “Do you think that Catalonia should be a State, yes or no?”

- “If yes, do you want that State to be independent, yes or no?”

Mas said a majority of parties in Catalonia, but not all, backed the referendum.

“There will be time for the Spanish state to negotiate with the Catalan institutions over how to hold this consultation in accordance with existing legal norms,” Mas said.

Proud of their distinct language and culture and fed up after five years of stop-start recession, many of the 7.5 million people in Catalonia want to redraw the map of Spain, saying they feel short-changed by the central government which redistributes their taxes.

But Rajoy swiftly squashed any hope that Madrid would consider allowing the creation of a new nation nestled between France and Spain.

“It is up to all Spaniards to decide on the shape of their country”, the Spanish leader said. “No government can surrender what belongs to the Spanish people.”

Rajoy said he regretted initiatives that “splinter society, feed division and generate deep uncertainty”.

He called directly on Mas to respect “the political commitment he assumed not to break the law”.

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Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has vowed to stop the vote on independence. (Pic: AP Photo/Andres Kudacki)

European Union President Herman Van Rompuy, who was in Madrid for talks with Rajoy, told the same news conference that he was “confident” Spain would remain united.

He warned, too, that any new independent state would have to apply to become a member of the European Union, subject to ratification by all member states.

Catalonia

Catalonia was there at the symbolic birth of Spain when Queen Isabella of Castile and King Ferdinand of Aragon, a region that included Catalonia, married in 1469.

Now Catalonia accounts for one-fifth of Spain’s total output and an even greater share of its exports.

But a recent poll by the Catalonia Centre for Opinion Studies showed that those favouring greater autonomy or outright independence far outweighed those who wanted to stick withSpain.

On 11 September, Catalonia’s national day, hundreds of thousands of Catalans massed in a vast human chain stretching across the region to demand independence.

The national day recalls the conquest of Barcelona by Spanish king Philip V’s forces in 1714.

Spain’s regions gained a large degree of autonomy, including responsibility for health and education, after the 1975 death of General Francisco Franco, who had centralised power in Madrid.

Many Catalans point to Scotland, whose leaders have called a referendum next September on independence from the UK, a move authorised by the British government.

Rajoy said in an interview this month that Catalonia could not hold a referendum like Scotland because Spain, unlike Britain, has a written constitution that rules out such a move.

Read: Catalans make a human chain for independence >

Column: The countdown to Scotland’s referendum is on – but many questions remain >

© – AFP 2013

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