Catalans vote in 'referendum' on independence

The organisers hope a turnout of about 40 percent on Sunday will generate enough momentum to organise an even bigger vote in Catalonia's capital Barcelona next year.

Catalans vote in 'referendum' on independence

Some 170 towns and villages in Catalonia vote in symbolic independence referendums on Sunday, as a debate rages nationwide over how much autonomy the wealthy Spanish region should be allowed.

"Do you agree that Catalonia becomes a social, democratic and independent state, and member of the European Union?" will be the question put to some 700,000 eligible voters, or about 10 per cent of Catalonia's population of over seven million.

A sizeable minority in Catalonia would like to see the northeastern region, which accounts for 25 per cent of Spain's gross domestic product and which has its own Catalan language, achieve independence from Spain.

In a referendum last September in the small town of Arenys de Munt, 96 per cent of residents voted in favour of secession. Turnout was 41 per cent.

Its result will not be legally binding, but its backers calculate that if many people vote it will put pressure on Catalonia's biggest political parties to call for a real referendum on secession in the future.

The organisers hope a turnout of about 40 percent on Sunday will generate enough momentum to organise an even bigger vote in Catalonia's capital Barcelona next year.

If that vote is a success, they calculate, parties such as Convergencia i Unio (CiU) will be forced to adopt their call for Catalans to be given a say on their status in Spain.

Such a scenario would be a nightmare for Zapatero, especially if Catalan socialists, whose votes he needs in parliament, defect to the referendum cause.

"These independence votes are going nowhere," was Zapatero's verdict on Friday.

But many disagree in Catalonia, home to major companies such as Gas Natural and with a cultural identity leading back to the Middle Ages.

"Catalonia is dying and has the right to be a country," said Joan Laporta, president of Barcelona football cub, at a rally in favour of the referendum on Friday.

Sunday's vote also comes as Spain's Constitutional Court prepares to rule on the legality of the region's statute of autonomy, with fears that a negative decision could fuel further separatist sentiment.

The statute, approved by the Spanish parliament and endorsed by Catalan voters in a 2006 referendum, expanded the powers of the regional government, which, like other Spanish regions, already controlled most aspects of government.

Further referendums are planned in other parts of the region, including the capital of Barcelona, and the cities of Girona and Lleida on February 28 and April 25.



Agencies

Last Mod: 13 Aralık 2009, 11:02
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