Catalonia votes to start secession process from Spain

INTERNATIONAL

MANU FERNANDEZ / AP
 Central government in Madrid vows to block road map toward independence, which is prohibited under Spanish law

The regional parliament of Catalonia approved a plan Monday to set up a road map for independence from Spain by 2017, in defiance of the central government.

The chamber, based in the northeastern city of Barcelona, passed the motion, 72 votes to 63.

The proposal was made by secessionist lawmakers from the Together for Yes alliance and the extreme left-wing Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP). The groups together obtained a parliamentary majority in regional elections in September.

The Spanish government reacted swiftly. In a nationally televised address, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said his government will contest the decision at the Constitutional Court, which has blocked moves toward Catalan independence.

“Catalonia is not going anywhere. Nothing is going to break,” he said.

He added he would meet with the leader of the main opposition Socialist Party, Pedro Sanchez, to form a common front against the separatists.

The motion passed by the parliament in its first postelection session declared “the start of a process toward the creation of an independent Catalan state in the form of a republic” and a “process of democratic disconnection not subject to the decisions by the institutions of the Spanish state.”

While separatist lawmakers celebrated the result in the chamber, opponents held up Spanish and Catalan flags.

“There is a growing cry for Catalonia to not merely be a country but to be a state, with everything that means,” Raul Romeva, the head of the Together for Yes alliance, said at the start of the session. “Today we don’t only open a new parliament. This marks a before and after.”

Catalan branches of Spain’s ruling conservative Popular Party and the Socialist and the Citizens opposition parties filed appeals to halt the vote, but Spain’s Constitutional Court ruled last Thursday that it could go ahead.

“You want to divide a country by raising a frontier within the European Union,” Citizens regional leader Ines Arrimadas told separatist lawmakers.

The Constitutional Court is expected to quickly rule the measure illegal, but the motion specifically orders the regional government not to heed decisions of Spain’s highest court. The motion gives the incoming government 30 days to start working on a new Catalan constitution, which would later be subject to approval in a referendum, and to begin establishing a tax office and social security administration.

Secessionist parties won 72 seats in September on the strength of just 48 percent of votes. That was due to an aspect of Spanish election law that overrepresents rural areas, where separatists have more support.

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