Spain, Court suspends Catalonia's referendum

It acted on request by Madrid, now five months for merits

30 September, 10:41

    Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy

    (by Paola Del Vecchio)

    (ANSAmed) - MADRID - The Spanish Constitutional Court has decided to suspend a referendum for Catalonia's independence, scheduled by the region led by Artur Mas on November 9.

    The Court acted on a request from the Spanish central government in Madrid. The step taken by Rajoy's government, announced for weeks, makes the institutional conflict official in an unprecedented crisis between the Spanish capital and Barcelona. A ''duty'', said the premier Monday after an emergency cabinet meeting in response to a regional decree calling a referendum for independence on November 9.

    The High Court ruled ''unanimously'' to suspend legislation on the matter for five months, until the final ruling on the merits, de facto making the vote illegitimate until its decision. Rajoy called for the rights of all Spanish nationals and the country's unity to ''deeply deplore'' a referendum which ''goes against the law, wounds democracy, divides Catalans, draws them away from Spain and the rest of Europe'' and ''fosters frustration''.

    The premier accused Mas of imposing ''unilateral decisions and accomplished facts''.

    However, he left the door open for a constitutional reform and, despite the distant position between Madrid and Catalonia, he offered Mas a ''dialogue respectful of the law''. ''We are still in time to get things back on an even keel'', he insisted.

    The immediate future is still unclear, especially what the central government will do if the Generalitat will choose to ignore the ruling and will go ahead with the vote. ''I don't want to contemplate a different scenario'' other than respect for the High Court's decision, said Rajoy. But concern is high that Catalonia will choose to challenge the verdict, local media report, noting that Madrid has already ordered postal services, under the authority of the infrastructure ministry, not to distribute material and ballots for Catalonia's vote. This would make it impossible for Catalans abroad to vote.

    The regional government is working on the post-ruling scenario and spokesman Francesc Homs on Monday said the cabinet was preparing ''counter deductions'' against Madrid's initiative, defined as ''one of the biggest mistakes of Spanish democracy made by a central government''.

    Meanwhile he assured that the Catalan executive will press ahead with ''preparatory acts'' for the referendum. The leader of Esquerra Repubblicana de Catalunya, Oriol Junquera, a government partner, also assured that the Constitutional Court's ban ''will not end a process of sovereignty''.

    And while secessionists are ready to respond to the call made by the Catalan National Association and ''take to the streets immediately to defend the November 9 referendum'', jurists and the media in Madrid like in Catalonia jurists are wondering how far the unprecedented institutional conflict in Spanish democracy will go.

    Art. 155 in the Constitution says the government can take ''necessary measures'' if an autonomous community ''violates the law or seriously threatens Spain's general interest''. It does not explicitly refer to putting a region under the administration of an external commissioner or using the armed forces but notes that, to implement such measures, the government can ''give instructions'' to autonomous communities.

    The conflict has just started.(ANSAmed).

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