Catalonia leaders seek to make independence vote binding

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Barcelona, Oct 2 (IANS) A day after a referendum on independence for Catalonia that was marred by clashes between supporters and police officers, the Spanish regions leaders were meeting on Monday to determine how to convert the vote into a state free from the rest of the country.

Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont said late Sunday that the Spanish region had won “the right to statehood” and he would soon present the result of the referendum to the regional Parliament to make it binding, the New York Times reported.

“With this day of hope and suffering, the citizens of Catalonia have won the right to an independent state in the form of a republic,” Puigdemont said in a televised address.

The Catalan government announced that 90 per cent of almost 2.3 million voters had voted in favour of independence. But several issues stood in the way of a consensus on the vote: The figures could not be independently verified, the voting registers were based on a census whose validity was contested and – most importantly – Spain’s constitutional court had ordered that the referendum be suspended.

Spain’s Justice Minister Rafael Catalá warned on Monday morning that the central government in Madrid was prepared to use its emergency powers to prevent a unilateral declaration of independence.

Under Spanish law, the government can take full administrative control of Catalonia. It is a wealthy region of 7.5 million people in north-eastern Spain. It has its own regional government which already has considerable powers over healthcare, education and tax collection, but is not recognised as a separate nation under the Spanish Constitution.

Amid a harsh response from the police to the Sunday vote, the turnout was only around 42 per cent of the 5.3 million eligible voters. A Catalan spokesman said more than 750,000 votes could not be counted because polling stations were closed and urns were confiscated, CNN reported.

The Catalan health ministry said 893 people were injured in clashes as riot police raided polling stations, dragged away voters and fired rubber bullets. TV images showed Spanish police kicking would-be voters and pulling women out of polling stations by their hair.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said Catalans had been fooled into taking part in an illegal vote.

The EU backed the embattled Spanish government. “We call on all relevant players to now move very swiftly from confrontation to dialogue. Violence can never be an instrument in politics,” the European Commission said in a statement posted on Twitter.

More than 40 trade unions and Catalan associations called a region-wide strike on Tuesday due to “the grave violation of rights and freedoms”.

Several thousand people gathered outside Barcelona’s town hall where the executive of the autonomous Catalan government was meeting to discuss its next move.

–IANS

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