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'Independence vote will go ahead': Catalan boss

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'Independence vote will go ahead': Catalan boss
The President of Catalonia Artur Mas. Photo: Lluis Gene/AFP
14:50 CEST+02:00
Catalonia will push ahead with a planned independence vote, preferably with the backing of the central government in Madrid, the president of Catalonia said after a meeting with the Spanish prime minister on Wednesday.

Catalan President Artur Mas made the comments during a press conference after a more than two-hour meeting with Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy — their first face-to-face encounter in nearly a year.

The encounter was seen by many as a chance to break the political deadlock over the thorny issue of a push for independence for Catalonia.  

During the meeting, Spain's prime minister repeated his message that a planned vote on the issue of independence for the region will not go ahead.

The vote is "illegal" and "doesn't have legal coverage" Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy told the President of Catalonia during the two-hour meeting,  the president of Spain's ruling Popular Party in Catalonia Alicia Sánchez Camacho told reporters.

Artur Mas, who has headed the Catalan government since 2010, has called for a November 9th referendum to test popular support in the region for the idea of independence from the rest of Spain.   

Rajoy has insisted that the vote would be illegal since under Spain's constitution referendums on sovereignty must be held nationally and not regionally. He has vowed to block any referendum.

However, Mas insisted on Wednesday he wanted the vote to go ahead.

"I told him that we are absolutely determined, as I told him a year ago, to hold the consultation," Mas said.

"We have the determination and the political strength, but we would like to hold (the vote) in a legal manner and with the backing of the State, British-style," he said, in reference to an upcoming vote in the UK on the issue of independence for Scotland.

"This is still not possible yet but we will keep trying. We don't have an agreement but the climate of dialogue is now open," the Catalan leader added.

With an economy that is roughly the size of Portugal's, Catalonia and its 7.5 million inhabitants — 16 percent of the Spanish population — have long been an engine for the country as a whole.

But a growing number of Catalans resent the redistribution of their taxes to other parts of Spain and believe the region would be better off on its own.

The 2008 real estate crash that triggered a five-year economic downturn across Spain and a 2010 decision by Spain's constitutional court to water down a 2006 statute giving the region more powers have added to the growing pressure for secession.

Support for independence itself was about 45 percent in April, according to the regional government's most recent poll. That compares with about 20 percent in October 2010 before Mas took office.

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