MADRID (Reuters) - Spain’s Constitutional Court on Tuesday suspended a watered-down vote on independence in Catalonia scheduled for Sunday, a move certain to stoke frustration among Catalans, most of whom favor a referendum.
Spain’s government had asked the court to block the “consultation of citizens” called by Catalonia’s regional government on grounds it was a way to get around the court’s September suspension of a non-binding referendum on secession.
That referendum, which would carry more legal weight, was originally scheduled for Sunday but the court suspended it at the end of September to consider its legality, a process that could take months.
“The court has...suspended the acts of the Catalan government connected to the calling of a citizens process on Nov. 9,” it said in a statement.
Independence supporters in Catalonia, a wealthy region of 7.5 million people with its own language, have had their calls for a vote boosted by the Scottish referendum held in September.
But unlike the British government, Spain’s central government has not authorized a vote. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has said such a referendum would be against the country’s 1978 constitution and the region already has substantial powers, including its own parliament, police force and education system.
The Catalan government said it would push ahead with the citizens consultation.
“Everything is ready for Nov.9,” said government spokesman Francesc Homs.
The Catalan government said 929,040 people had visited its webpage on the vote and the Barcelona-based government would sue the Spanish government over attacking citizens’ right to freedom of expression.
It was not clear whether the Spanish government will order arrests or other legal action against Catalans who organize unofficial ballots on Sunday.
Some people expect the Catalan government to withdraw from the organization of Sunday’s ballots, leaving it to citizens’ groups campaigning for a break from Spain.
“We think that a handover (to citizens’ groups) should take place,” said Maurici Lucena, spokesman in the Catalan parliament for the Socialists, who are against independence but favor a legal referendum.
Tens of thousands of people are expected to turn out on Sunday to hold demonstrations in favor of independence.
Catalonia’s President Artur Mas has said local elections due in November 2016 could be brought forward and turned into a proxy plebiscite on the region breaking away from Spain.
For that to happen, all the pro-independence parties will need to stand together on the one issue.
Additional reporting by Raquel Castillo; Editing by Sonya Dowsett and Sonya Hepinstall