MADRID/BARCELONA (Reuters) - Catalonia’s regional government said on Tuesday it would temporarily suspend campaigning for a vote on independence from Spain, after Madrid filed a legal block to the referendum.
Spain’s central government argues that the vote, called by Catalan leader Artur Mas for Nov. 9, would breach the country’s rule of law because it would be held in Catalonia alone, rather than in the whole of Spain.
The Constitutional Court suspended the planned referendum on Monday after the government filed its legal appeal, a move Catalan officials now want to try and overturn.
The legal suspension of Catalonia’s plans had been expected for months, although Mas defied Madrid by calling the vote anyway, and is still pushing for ways for it to go ahead.
“In the next few hours we will file our arguments to overturn the suspension of the vote,” Francesc Homs, spokesman for the Catalan government, told reporters on Tuesday. “Although we have withdrawn our campaign, we are not pulling out.”
With official campaigning halted for now, secessionist grassroots movements, which have swelled in recent years in the wealthy northeastern region and set the political agenda there, are likely to take centre stage.
A Reuters reporter saw hundreds of people braving driving rain outside Barcelona’s town hall on Tuesday evening to protest at the Constitutional Court ruling and demand the right to vote.
Spanish media said thousands of Catalans had also turned out in towns across the region.
“We just want to vote, yes or no, to know how many people are in favour and how many against,” said Barcelona resident Isabel Redondo, who joined crowds in the city’s central Sant Jaume square.
Protesters in Barcelona drapped Catalan flags and banners with pro-independence motifs over their umbrellas, while some waved giant cardboard ballot boxes as they chanted, “Yes, yes, yes, we will vote.”
Some pro-independence campaigners want politicians to try and hold the non-binding vote in November regardless of its legality.
Hundreds of thousands of people had already filled the streets of Barcelona on Sept. 11, the region’s national day, calling for the right to vote on a potential split from Spain. That fervour was boosted by a Scottish referendum on independence from Britain on Sept.18 - even though it ended in a ‘No’ vote.
With the Catalonia referendum plans now moving into a grey area, some political analysts expect Mas to call early local elections.
A large majority of people in Catalonia, a region with its own widely spoken language and distinct culture, agree that they want to hold a referendum on independence, polls show.
And support for independence has been rising - although not to the point where it is clear that the region would vote to break away from Spain.
Spanish government bond yields edged lower earlier on Tuesday after the Constitutional Court shelved the vote, which had spooked investors fearing the country would lose a region which accounts for a fifth of national economic output.
Fitch ratings also put Catalonia’s BBB- rating on negative watch.
Reporting by Inmaculada Sanz and Elena Gyldenkerne; Writing by Elisabeth O'Leary and Sarah White; Editing by Mark Heinrich