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Spain seeks to block Catalonia secession bid in court

Catalan acting President Artur Mas (R) gestures, while seated next to Neus Munte, during the election session for the new President at Catalunya's Parliament in Barcelona

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said on Wednesday his government had filed an appeal with the Constitutional Court in a bid to block an independence drive by Catalonia region’s local assembly and preserve Spanish national unity.

Catalonia’s regional parliament passed a resolution on Monday calling for secession from Spain, with the aim of forming a Catalan republic within 18 months and starting to set up state institutions, such as a tax office.

“It’s not just a reaction to a motion passed in parliament, this is about defending a whole country,” Rajoy told a news conference after a cabinet meeting, adding the northeastern region would not be allowed to split from Spain.

“This is a blatant disregard for the state’s institutions. They are trying to do away with democracy. I will not allow it,” he said.

The row over Catalonia has escalated dramatically with weeks to go to a national election in December, dominating political campaigns as parties such as Rajoy’s centre-right People’s Party (PP) call for Spanish unity.

Spain’s Constitution does not allow any region to break away and if the court agrees to process the central government’s appeal later on Wednesday the Catalan assembly’s resolution will be suspended for several months.

If Catalan leaders continue to press ahead with the independence bid under those circumstances, it could further drive up tensions between Barcelona and Madrid since Rajoy vowed to take more steps if needed against local representatives.

Parties favouring a split from Spain won a majority of seats in the Catalan parliament in September, though they fell short of half the vote.

Acting regional head Artur Mas, who ran the Catalan government during years of economic crisis that saw the independence movement swell, is fighting for political survival, amid leadership squabbles in the pro-secession camp.

Mas lost a Catalan assembly vote on Tuesday to be reinstated as regional president, though further rounds of voting will be held.

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