Tensions rise over Catalan independence referendum

Catalonia regional President Carles Puigdemont. Photo: Albert García / El País
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• Announcement of October referendum dismissed by Rajoy government
• Secret secession law to be made public less than 60 days before plebiscite

In a high-stakes game of political “cat and mouse” over the move toward secession by Spain’s northeast region of Catalonia, the president of the regional Catalan government on Monday followed up his announcement of a unilateral October referendum on independence from Spain with the revelation that a “secret law” outlining secessionist plans negotiated behind closed doors by the regional parliament’s pro-indendence majority will not be made public until July, less than 60 days prior to the scheduled vote.

Following repeated failure to reach mutual agreement on an independence referendum with Spain’s central government in Madrid, Catalan regional President Carles Puigdemont announced last Friday that his government would move ahead unilaterally toward a referendum vote that he announced for 1st October. According to Puigdemont, Catalans will be asked to vote a simple “Yes” or “No” on the question: “Do you want Catalonia to be an independent State in the form of a republic?”

Despite the announcement, Catalan authorities have refused to formalize the date in writing so as to avoid the filing of a complaint with Spain’s Tribuna Constitucional (Constitutional High Court) by the conservative Partido Popular (PP) government of Spanish President Mariano Rajoy. The high court has repeatedly ruled against moves by the Catalan government toward secession on the basis of the prohibition by Spain’s Constitution of 1978 of any independence referendum or plebiscite by any local or regional authority in Spain, barring former Catalan President Artur Mas and other politicians from public office for the offence.

Following Puigdemont’s verbal announcement of the unilateral referendum on Friday was a mass promotional rally staged by pro-independence groups and attended by an estimated 30,000 supporters on Sunday in Barcelona. The rally grabbed international news headlines with the much-publicized presence of popular former star player and manager of FC Barcelona football club, Pep Guardiola, currently the manager of Manchester City football club in the U.K., who read a pro-independence manifesto that called for international support to defend democracy in Catalonia against an “authoritarian” Spanish government.

Spokespersons for the Rajoy government in Madrid have downplayed both Sunday’s rally and Puigdemont’s verbal announcement of the 1st October date for the referendum as insignificant. Reiterating that the central government will not allow an unconstitutional referendum to be held, while not spelling out what measures would be taken to stop the vote, the Rajoy government has said that it will wait to file a further injunction with the Tribuna Constitucional until the Catalan government actually commits itself in writing to holding the referendum in October.

► Read More in Spanish at El País, El Periódico and El Mundo …

► Read More in English at The Guardian and TheLocal.es …

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