October 1, 2015 / 7:39 PM / 2 years ago

Spain shores up legal powers to prevent Catalan breakaway

Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy gestures during a news conference at Moncloa Palace in Madrid, Spain, September 28, 2015.Juan Medina

MADRID (Reuters) - Spain's parliament on Thursday approved measures giving the Constitutional Court powers to fine or suspend authorities that do not carry out its sentences, shoring up legal powers to deal with any bid for independence from Catalonia.

Secessionist parties in the wealthy region on Sunday secured an absolute majority in terms of seats in the local parliament in an election seen by some as a proxy vote on independence but won only 48 percent of the votes cast, less than the majority that would be needed in a referendum.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has refused to allow the region, with its own language and culture, to hold a referendum on independence, saying it is against Spain's constitution, and has blocked any attempts to change that decision in the courts.

The inconclusive result of Sunday's election had lessened the chance of a split of the region from Spain, Rajoy said in a television interview on Thursday.

The measure, easily passed on Thursday given the absolute majority of Rajoy's ruling People's Party (PP), will come into effect before December's general election and will allow the court to force the resignation of officials and civil servants, including politicians, if they do not comply with rulings.

It will also give the court the ability to level fines of up to 30,000 euros ($33,500) on officials.

Catalan parties on Thursday said it had been drawn up specifically to target the acting head of the Catalan regional government, Artur Mas.

"It's personal - they want to wipe out Mas politically and personally," Carles Campuzano, member of parliament for Mas's pro-independence party CDC, told the lower house.

The PP said the law was designed to strengthen the power of the courts. The center-right party has said the measures are a very clear message to those who want to break away from Spain.

Rajoy said on Thursday he would back any decision from the Constitutional Court to sack the head of the Catalan government if he took steps towards independence that go against the constitution.

The courts have been key in Madrid's fight to block any Catalan bid for independence.

On Tuesday, Catalonia's Supreme Court indicted Mas, for pushing ahead with a referendum on independence from Spain last year even though the courts ruled the vote unconstitutional.

The preliminary charges encompass disobedience, abuse of authority and usurping authority.

Reporting by Inmaculada Sanz and Julien Toyer; Writing by Sonya Dowsett; Editing by Louise Ireland

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