Sunday 27 May 2018

Angry Spanish PM moves to crush vote on Catalonian independence

Threat: Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy. Photo: Reuters
Threat: Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy. Photo: Reuters

Hannah Strange

the Spanish prime minister, has promised to "stop at nothing" to prevent Catalonia's independence referendum, as he asked Spain's top court to block the vote and his attorney-general prepared to prosecute Catalan leaders.

In a blistering address yesterday, Mariano Rajoy accused Catalonia's parliament of an "intolerable act of disobedience" in passing its referendum law, insisting it violated the Spanish constitution.

"The consultation is not going to happen in any case," he said. "We are defending national sovereignty, the principle of legality and the institutions. We are defending the rights of all citizens, above all of the Catalans."

The warning came after Catalonia's president, Carles Puigdemont, officially called the independence referendum for October 1, an act he declared to be "for liberty and democracy".

After a day of tense debate, the Catalan parliament passed the referendum law late on Wednesday, despite furious complaints from opponents in the chamber that it was engaged in a criminal act.

A major legal fight looms, with Spain's constitutional court almost certain to strike down the referendum law in the coming days. Jose Manuel Maza, the attorney-general, said he was opening criminal complaints against the entire Catalan government and the members of the parliamentary leadership who had enabled Wednesday's vote.

But the Catalan government insists it will press ahead, and this morning officially launches the referendum campaign with a new website and advert.

Jordi Turull, a spokesman, said Madrid's moves changed nothing. "Calling a referendum is not a crime," he said, insisting Catalonia would defend democratic freedoms in the face of "this state of siege".

The Catalan government has also begun taking applications for volunteers to work on the vote, who will have to brave the threat of prosecution from the Spanish authorities. Local councils have been given 48 hours to confirm whether they will open their facilities for the poll. A key question is whether the mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, will co-operate. She said on Twitter yesterday that she was considering the request, and was willing to facilitate democratic participation "without putting the [local] institution and officials at risk".

The independence issue has divided Catalans, with the latest poll this week indicating that just over 50pc support secession from Spain. Those tensions are likely to be on full display on Monday when Catalonia celebrates its national day, the Diada, which commemorates the fall of Barcelona in the Spanish War of Succession.

Barcelona residents yesterday had mixed feelings about the possibility of a referendum.

"It will never be legal if it's not agreed with the government," said interior designer Laurent Legard (53). "This is not the right path."

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editors Choice

Also in World News