06272017Headline:

Catalonia calls October referendum on independence from Spain

The autonomous region of Catalonia will hold a referendum on breaking away from Spain on October 1, the region's leader announced on Friday, setting the stage for another confrontation with Madrid which considers such a vote illegal.

The announcement was made on Friday morning by Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, who criticized the central government in Madrid for refusing to accept any proposals that would allow the region to hold a legally-binding referendum.

"We are at the end of our legislative term and we haven't had a single positive answer," he said, as quoted by the Catalan News Agency. He explained that Madrid's refusal to negotiate on an independence referendum justified organizing it under the authority of the regional government.

"Fulfilling our democratic commitment, today we have collectively ratified, with the Vice President and all our ministers, our willingness to call the citizens of our country, in the exercise of their legitimate right to self-determination, to a referendum that will be held on Sunday, October 1," Puigdemont said.

The question on the ballot will be: "Do you want Catalonia to be an independent country in the form of a Republic?" Voters will be able to answer with "Yes" or "No". The question will be written in all 3 regional languages: Catalan, Spanish, and Aranese.

"It's up to the Catalans to decide their future," Puigdemont added.

The announcement sets the stage for months of confrontation with the central government, which is led by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. A government spokesman in Madrid condemned the proposed vote as illegal and vowed to block it from taking place.

The Catalan government said it would seek to "implement" the results of the vote, even though Spain's constitution requires that a referendum on sovereignty takes place nationally, not regionally. It allows Madrid to suspend the regional government's authority or, in the worst case, send in security forces.

Catalonia also called an independence referendum for 2014, but Spain's Constitutional Court sided with Madrid and ordered the Catalan government to suspend the vote. The autonomous region went ahead nonetheless, although it made some changes to indicate that the vote had no legal effect.

In the referendum, more than 80 percent of participants voted in favor of independence from Spain by voting "yes-yes" in a two-part question. Another 10 percent voted in favor of Catalonia becoming a country but chose "No" when asked whether it should be independent from Spain.

Earlier this year, former Catalan President Artur Mas was banned from holding public office for 2 years and fined 36,500 euros ($40,860) for organizing the 2014 referendum, which was deemed illegal by a court in Barcelona. The conviction and a recent recession has energized the independence drive.

Up to 800,000 people took to the streets in September 2016 to demand independence from Spain.

Catalonia, which has a total population of 7.6 million people, has long sought independence from Spain. Many of its residents feel that the wealthy region contributes far more to the Spanish economy than it gets back through central government funds.

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