Catalan separatists push referendum, Madrid will try to block

Wed Dec 19, 2012 11:52am EST
 
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By Braden Phillips

BARCELONA, Spain (Reuters) - The leaders of Catalonia's two biggest political forces signed a pact on Wednesday to overcome their enormous divide on economic and social issues and defy Madrid by holding a referendum on secession from Spain in 2014.

Growing Catalan separatism is a political headache for Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who is struggling to keep Spain's finances on track and dodge an international bailout. Vice President Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said on Wednesday the government would try to block the referendum in the courts.

It is still unclear how and when the vote can be legally organized but the deal will have more direct consequences for Spain's push to control regional finances as the two parties have agreed not to implement more spending cuts.

The agreement between the center-right Convergence and Union alliance, or CiU, and the radical Republican Left, or ERC, falls short of a governing coalition but the ERC will support CiU's budget and the two will push together for the referendum.

"We will face a lot of adversaries, powerful ones, without scruples," CiU leader Artur Mas said at the signing. But he said that acting together the CiU and ERC had enough power in the local parliament to push ahead with the vote.

A deep recession and unemployment have stoked separatism in Catalonia, a region in northeastern Spain that generates one-fifth of the country's economy and has its own language and distinct culture.

Mas, who has implemented unpopular spending cuts, held early elections November 25 to test support for his new drive for independence for Catalonia. Many Catalans believe that their region will be better off economically if it leaves Spain, saying that too many of their taxes go to help out poorer regions.

In the election Mas's CiU alliance ended up with 50 seats in the local legislature, losing 12 seats, while the traditional separatist party ERC gained 11 seats and has 21.   Continued...

 
The centre-right Convergence and Union (CiU) leader Artur Mas (L) and Republican Left (ERC) leader Oriol Junqueras sign an agreed alliance at Parlament de Catalunya in Barcelona, December 19, 2012. REUTERS/Albert Gea