MADRID (Reuters) - Catalonia's regional assembly on Monday passed a resolution calling for secession from Spain, energizing a drive towards independence and deepening a standoff with central government in Madrid.
The declaration, which pro-independence parties in the northeastern region hope will lead to Catalonia seceding within 18 months, was backed by a majority in the regional parliament.
Spain's center-right prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, said his government would seek to invalidate the motion with an appeal to the Constitutional Court in the coming days.
The fraught debate over Catalan secession has diverted campaigning for national elections on Dec. 20 away from a focus on Spain's uneven emergence from an economic crisis.
In September, parties favoring independence from Spain won a majority of seats in the Catalan assembly, after public support for the cause in one of Spain's wealthiest regions swelled during the recent recession.
"The Catalan parliament will adopt the necessary measures to start this democratic process of massive, sustained and peaceful disconnection from the Spanish state," read the resolution, published in Catalan.
But the Spanish constitution does not allow any region to break away and the Rajoy has repeatedly dismissed the Catalan campaign out of hand.
"I understand that many Spaniards have had a bellyful (...) of this continued attempt to delegitimize our institutions," he said in a televised address.
Members of his People's Party (PP) held up Spanish flags in the Catalan assembly after the resolution was passed, amid raucous applause from those who voted in favor.
The Catalan question is a long way from coming to a head, even as pro-independence parties say they will start setting up state-like institutions, including a social security office.
The declaration said it considered that judicial decisions, "in particular those of the Constitutional Court", were not legitimate, raising the prospect that regional politicians could disobey its rulings.
Opposition to Catalan independence is a vote winner across the political spectrum in the rest of Spain, and especially for the PP and newcomers Ciudadanos, a market-friendly party founded in Catalonia.
"The parties that are favored by this (standoff) are Ciudadanos, because the debate makes them look like a national contender, and the PP, because Rajoy looks like he’s standing firm, and that is something that conservative voters will like,” said Antonio Barroso, analyst at thinktank Teneo.
The PP is on course to win the national election, though new parties are splitting the big parties' votes, and surveys indicate that Rajoy is still far from a majority.
Catalan secessionists argue that they have tried to persuade the government to discuss the independence issue and have been blocked by unionist parties.
Artur Mas, acting head of the regional government, said Madrid was ignoring the results of the September election, when pro-independence parties won nearly 48 percent of the vote.
"No one can talk about a silent majority (against secession) now," Mas said. "This is a state that continues to turn its back on dialogue and negotiation."
Mas, who has been indicted for holding a symbolic proxy vote on independence in November last year, is battling to win support in the assembly for a second term at the helm of the Catalan government, amid infighting among the pro-secession camp.
Additional reporting by Sarah White and Tomas Cobos; Editing by John Stonestreet