Spanish court deals new blow to Catalan independence vote

Hundreds of thousands of Catalans marked their national holiday on Monday by supporting the right to vote on independence

Hundreds of thousands of Catalans marked their national holiday on Monday by supporting the right to vote on independence

Like the referendum held in Britain a year ago on the country's membership in the European Union, the issue in Catalonia pits rural areas - which are more pro-independence - against large urban centres like Barcelona that are more in favour of remaining in Spain. He has vowed to declare independence within days if the referendum result is a yes.

The Spanish Supreme Court has proclaimed the referendum on October 1 illegal, but the regional government is set on going ahead.

The country's prosecutor office on Wednesday ordered the 712 mayors, who have agreed to help stage the October 1 vote, to be summoned to court as official suspects and called for their arrest in case of a refusal to appear for questioning.

Catalonia's pro-separatist government has asked the wealthy northeastern region's 948 mayors to provide facilities for polling stations for the plebiscite.

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"What is happening is that people are looking to have more control over their lives; they are looking for much more in terms of a say in how their lives are run", he said.

Joan Rabasseda, the separatist mayor of Arenys de Munt which in 2009 became the first town in Catalonia to hold a symbolic independence referendum, told AFP that he was simply "obeying" the law calling the referendum passed by Catalonia's regional parliament.

Police were ordered on Tuesday to seize ballot boxes, along with election flyers or any item that could be used in the banned referendum, AFP reported.

Officials engaging in any preparations for the vote could face charges of civil disobedience, abuse of office and misuse of public funds, the letter said.

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The Constitutional Court last Thursday suspended the referendum after a legal challenge by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is fighting to stop the ballot and he appealed to Catalans to ignore calls from independence supporters to turn out.

Catalonia, roughly the same size as Belgium, has its own language and customs, and already has significant powers over matters such as education and healthcare.

Spain's economic troubles and a perception that the region pays more in taxes than it receives in investments from Madrid have helped push the secessionist movement.

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Hundreds of thousands of Catalans rallied on Monday in Barcelona on their national day to demand their region's secession from Spain and support the right to vote.

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