Catalonian separatists decry court’s halting of independence vote

By Daniel Bosque, AFP

BARCELONA–Catalonia faced protests by separatists on Tuesday, a day after Spain’s Constitutional Court ordered the suspension of a planned referendum on independence that was set to take place in November. The regional government of Catalonia was preparing to launch a legal battle against the court’s move although legal experts said its options were limited. On Monday, Spain’s Constitutional Court temporarily halted the non-binding independence vote called by Catalonia’s nationalist government for November 9 following a request from Spain’s central government that it declare the vote unconstitutional. The court’s unanimous decision to hear the government’s case automatically suspended the independence referendum from going forward until judges hear arguments and make a decision. The Catalan National Assembly, a powerful pressure group that has been pushing for the independence vote, responded by urging its supporters to gather outside of town halls across the wealthy northeastern region at 7:00 pm to protest against the court’s ruling. “Today we start building a new country! At 7:00 pm everyone outside of your town halls! Now is the time, it depends on us!” the group said in a Twitter message. The head of the regional government of Catalonia, Artur Mas, signed a decree on Saturday calling for the referendum. Since then a luminous clock on Barcelona’s historic Sant Jaume square has been ticking down the minutes to the vote and Catalonia has launched a publicity campaign to inform voters about the referendum. Spain’s conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said he “deeply” regretted Mas’s move, saying it “divides Catalans, alienates them from Europe and the rest of Spain and seriously harms their welfare.” In a televised address to the nation on Monday, Rajoy said the right to decide a region’s status belonged to “all the Spanish people” under the country’s 1978 constitution — the keystone of Spain’s democracy after the death of the dictator Francisco Franco. Catalans Defiant

The president of Catalonia’s regional parliament, Nuria de Gispert, said Tuesday the assembly would request that the suspension of the referendum be “lifted immediately.” But Antonio Torres del Moral, a constitutional law professor at Spain’s UNED University, said “the suspension can’t be appealed because it is provisional.” “The court however is required to act quickly,” he added. Buoyed by mass street demonstrations and inspired by Scotland’s independence referendum, Mas has pushed ahead for a vote in defiance of Rajoy’s warnings.