Catalan leader says parliament rejection won’t halt referendum

Catalan leader says parliament rejection won’t halt referendum

MADRID - Reuters
Catalan leader says parliament rejection won’t halt referendum

The referendum on independence is due to be held in Nov 9. AFP Photo

Catalonia President Artur Mas said April 8 he would forge ahead with his region’s plans to hold a referendum on independence in Nov. 9 after Spain’s parliament overwhelmingly rejected the petition.

After a seven-hour debate in the national parliament in Madrid, and despite heavy support for the separatist movement in the wealthy northeastern region, 299 lawmakers voted against, 47 voted for and one abstained.

The regional parliament of Catalonia, which has its own language and a long history of fighting for greater autonomy from Spain, sent the initiative to the national legislature in January asking for permission to hold a referendum.

“They are afraid that the Catalan people vote. Some would like to present this as the end of the matter but, as President of Catalonia, I say to them that it is not the end,” Mas said in a live speech in Catalan immediately after votes were counted. “Catalan institutions will search through the legal frameworks to find a way to continue with this consultation.” Catalan lawmakers said the movement had already gained too much momentum to stop the referendum completely.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy repeated his argument that the vote would be illegal, since under Spain’s constitution referendums on sovereignty must be held nationally and not regionally. All the major parties, including the ruling conservative People’s Party (PP), the main opposition group, the Socialists, and the centrist Union for Progress and Democracy (UPyD), voted against the petition. Catalan and Basque nationalist parties voted in favor. “Maybe I believe in Catalonia more than you do. I love Catalonia like it was my own,” Prime Minister Rajoy said during the debate. “Together we all win, but separate, we all lose. This isn’t just a question of law, but of sentiment ... I can’t imagine Spain without Catalonia, or Catalonia out of Europe.”

The specter of a breakaway Catalonia, which accounts for a fifth of the Spanish economy and 16 percent of its population, has become a big headache for Rajoy, who is battling high unemployment and the scars of a deep recession.