People in Spain’s wealthy Catalonia region have begun voting in a symbolic poll on a split from Spain, with the region’s president saying any attempt by Madrid to stop the vote would be an attack on democracy.
Despite the fierce opposition from Madrid, Catalan leaders have stuck by their vote plan in a constitutional standoff unprecedented in post-Franco Spain.
Vowing to defend the unity of the country as it recovers from an economic crisis, Madrid has mounted a series of constitutional appeals to try to block the vote.
But Catalans have pushed ahead defiantly, fired up by the independence referendum held in Scotland in September, even though Scots voted not to break away from Britain.
Spain’s conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy says his country cannot hold an independence referendum like Scotland because, unlike Britain, it has a written constitution that forbids it.
Rajoy downplayed the importance of the vote during a speech to supporters of his conservative Popular Party in the eastern city of Caceres.
“What will take place tomorrow, we can call it whatever one wants, but it is not a referendum, not a consultation, nor anything that resembles it, I can’t even qualify it. What is certain is that it will not have any effect,” he said.
Meanwhile, Catalan president Artur Mas on Saturday issued a fresh warning to Madrid, less than 24 hours before the vote was set to go ahead.
“I don’t know what they (the central government in Madrid) will do, it does not depend on us, but if they have a minimum of common sense I think any action out of the ordinary (to prevent the vote) would be a direct attack on democracy and a direct attack on fundamental rights,” Mas said during an interview with public television.
“No matter how you term it people are going to go to go to the ballot box and they are going to make their decision and that decision will influence their future and we are here to help that happen,” the delegation’s spokesman, Ian Duncan, a British lawmaker in the European Parliament, told news agency AFP.
Proud of its distinct language and culture, Catalonia, a region of 7.5 million people, accounts for nearly a fifth of Spain’s economy.
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