Spain on tenterhooks ahead of Catalonia secession vote

10 Nov 2015


Lawmakers in Catalonia made impassionate pleas on Monday for and against independence for their wealthy region ahead of a much-anticipated vote on whether to launch an 18-month process towards secession from Spain.

Pro-independence parties in the northeastern region tabled a resolution to secede from the rest of the country last month and the Barcelona-based parliament - where separatists have a majority - kicked off a debate on the issue early on Monday before the vote.

Catalonia's independence movement is an increasingly prickly thorn in the side of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who is gearing up for crucial general elections in December and has vowed to go straight to the Constitutional Court if the resolution is passed.

"With this resolution, we are solemnly kicking off the construction of a state," Raul Romeva of the pro-independence 'Together for Yes' coalition told regional lawmakers.

"Many people are going to live this day with a lot of emotion."

While not legally binding, the text calls on the regional assembly to start working on legislation within 30 days to create a separate social security system and treasury, with a view of complete independence as early as 2017.

The resolution has the backing of Catalan president Artur Mas' 'Together for Yes' coalition and the smaller far-left separatist CUP party, which together have a majority in the regional assembly with 72 seats of the 135 seats.

But Rajoy has the backing of the main opposition Socialists and new, popular centre-right group Ciudadanos.

"I was born in Catalonia and I want to keep living here," said Xavier Garcia Albiol of the ruling PP party.

"While you are spending your time and efforts to break up Catalonia from the rest of Spain, 600,000 Catalans go out on the street every day to look for work," he said, referring to pro-independence lawmakers.

"While you are dedicating your time to creating state structures, 1.5 million Catalans live in precarious conditions."

There have long been demands for greater autonomy in Catalonia, a region of 7.5 million people with its own language that accounts for a fifth of Spain's economic output.

These calls have intensified in recent years, in tandem with the country's economic crisis.

A 2010 decision by Spain's Constitutional Court to water down a 2006 statute giving the region more powers has added to the growing pressure for secession.

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