The Catalan regional premier, Artur Mas, has signed a decree calling a referendum on independence for the northeastern Spanish region. As he was widely expected to do, the Convergence and Union (CiU) politician put pen to paper shortly after 10.30am in the Palau de la Generalitat, the regional government's headquarters, in the presence of representatives from the Catalonia parliament and political groups that are in favor of the vote. A large round of applause broke out after Mas signed the document.
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The aim of the referendum, according to the decree, is to “find out the opinion [of the public] on the political future of Catalonia.”
The decree signed by Mas sets the date for the vote as November 9. It will ask two questions of citizens in Catalonia: “Do you want Catalonia to be a state?” If the answer is affirmative, the next question is “Do you want that state to be independent?”
The government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is strongly against the vote, calling it unconstitutional. The Cabinet is set to hold an emergency meeting on Monday in order to finalize an appeal that will be filed at the Constitutional Court.
The decree has been signed under the legal framework of legislation passed by the Catalan parliament last Friday. The signing of the document will allow the regional government to put a campaign in motion – it is already finalizing a list of electoral colleges, as well as the technical organization of the vote – at least until the process is potentially halted by the Constitutional Court pending the result of the government’s planned appeal.
From Sunday onward, regional parties will be permitted to start campaigning for the referendum – again, at least until the process is stopped by the courts. Despite this, the Convergència Democràtica group has already announced that it will continue with its preparations for the vote, in the case that the suspension is lifted just before November 9.
A large crowd, many waving the unofficial Estelada flag typically flown by Catalan separatists, greeted Mas as he left the Palau after the signing. Mas, who was accompanied by the leader of the ERC party Oriol Junqueras, his advisers and his wife, was applauded as he prepared to address the crowd.
“We have to listen to the people,” said Mas, who has not been deterred in his campaign to hold a vote on sovereignty in the region despite the recent failure of the Scottish independence drive. “And the way to do that is let them vote.”
CARLOS E. CUÉ, Beijing
Just a few hours before Artur Mas signed a decree calling a referendum in Catalonia on independence, the Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, was taking a relaxed stroll along the Great Wall of China. It's an image that will be seen across the media as a way of contrasting what was happening in Barcelona on Saturday morning with what was going on around Rajoy.
During an informal conversation on the wall with journalists, the prime minister said: "He has got himself in a mess over this all on his own. We told him what was going to happen, it's what we have always said. I suppose he thought that we were going to back down, but we are going to do what we said we would do."
The prime minister was referring to the appeal his government is planning on filing with the Constitutional Court regarding the vote. A Cabinet meeting has been convened on Monday to finalize the details.
Rajoy showed himself to be calm on Saturday morning in the face of the challenge from Catalonia, and is convinced that the real problem that Mas will have now is finding a way out of a situation that, in the prime minister's view, is all his fault. "You have to think about the consequences of your actions," he told reporters in China. "In politics you can't just do things and then see what happens."