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CATALAN President Artur Mas signed a decree in Barcelona on Saturday to call a referendum on independence from Spain.
Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria responded two hours later, saying that the national government would hold an emergency cabinet meeting within days so the referendum could be challenged in Spain’s Constitutional Court.
“This referendum will not be held because it is unconstitutional,” she declared.
But, flanked by most of Catalonia’s pro-vote political leaders, Mr Mas said: “Like all the nations of the world, Catalonia has the right to decide its political future.”
Pro-independence sentiment in the economically strong autonomous community has surged in recent years, fuelled by a sense that the region deserves better fiscal and political treatment from Madrid.
Conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has repeatedly said that Spain’s constitution does not allow referendums on sovereignty that don’t include all Spaniards.
The Constitutional Court is all but certain to declare any vote illegal.
Hundreds of pro-independence supporters,
wearing or waving
pro-independence flags, gathered in the square in front of the Catalan government building in central Barcelona as Mr Mas spoke.
The crowd cheered when a clock counting down the days until the referendum was set in motion on the side of a building overlooking the square.
Catalan National Assembly president Carme Forcadell, whose organisation has pushed for the referendum through a series of rallies over the past three years, said: “Today is a day to celebrate.”
“We are very happy and satisfied that President Mas has called the referendum.”
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