Spain’s Constitutional Court has temporarily halted an independence referendum called by the rich northeastern region of Catalonia, a decision which the region’s leaders vowed to ignore despite warnings by the central government.
The court’s unanimous decision to hear the government’s case automatically suspended the November 9 non-binding referendum from going forward until the court hears arguments and makes a decision, a process that could take months or years, a court spokeswoman said.
She spoke on condition of anonymity because of court rules preventing her from being named.
The court acted hours after Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said the referendum decree represents “a grave attack on the rights of all Spaniards.”
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said the vote is “a grave attack on the rights of all Spaniards,” and a breach to the constitution, that “was based on the indissoluble unity of the Spanish state”.
Buoyed by mass street demonstrations, regional leader Artur Mas has pushed ahead for a vote in defiance of Rajoy’s warnings.
“You cannot use the law to prevent people indefinitely from stating their opinion,” Mas said in a television interview on Sunday in anticipation of Monday’s appeal.
Unhappy at Spain’s refusal to give it more powers, Catalonia has vowed for months to hold the referendum. The move is the latest secession push in Europe following Scotland’s recent vote to remain in Britain.
Polls indicate most Catalans favour holding the referendum but are roughly evenly split on independence.
Al Jazeera’s Jonah Hull, reporting from the Catalan capital, Barcelona, said recent polls have showed that 58 percent will endorse the independence of the region, home for 7.5 million inhabitants, who are proud of their distinct language and culture.
“Eighty-seven percent of those surveyed in the polls said they will be happy with whatever the result will be,” our correspondent said.
Catalonia has prepared ballot boxes and begun publicity campaigns to inform the region’s five million voters about the referendum.
“Voting on November is the best thing for everyone because it will allow us and also the Spanish government to know what the Catalan people’s opinion is,” Mas said.
Catalonia is Spain’s economic powerhouse, accounting for about a fifth of the country’s economy. But it suffered like all of Spain from the property crash and ensuing economic downturn sparked by the 2008-2012 global financial crisis.
The Catalans feel short-changed by the government in Madrid which redistributes their taxes.
The independence movement in Catalonia has gathered strength in recent years as Spain’s economic crisis has increased unemployment and hardship in the region and swelled its debts.
Catalonia formally adopted the status of a “nation” in 2006 but the Constitutional Court overruled that claim.