Spain will not acknowledge Catalan independence referendum

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Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has ruled out the possibility of any referendum on the secession of the northeastern region of Catalonia from Spain.

“It is not possible to hold a referendum that will do away with national sovereignty and the equality of Spaniards,” Rajoy said at a year-end press conference in Madrid on Friday.

Members of Catalonia’s National Alliance for the Right to Self-Determination, which brings together pro-secession political groups in Spain’s semi-autonomous region, met on December 23 to set out the course of an independence vote planned to be held in September 2017.

The Catalonian government pledged to push forward with secession from Spain with or without the approval of the central government, although it preferred a Scottish-type scenario where a consensual vote was held in Scotland in September 2014.

“This is not going anywhere, I’m offering something which is a lot more reasonable, dialogue,” Rajoy said.

The Spanish premier also urged local leaders to abandon attempts to hold a vote next year. “I ask that no more steps are taken in the opposite direction.”

Catalonia already has autonomy in health, education and policing. Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, however, wants to create a central bank, armed forces and diplomatic services.

The resource-rich region provides at least one-fifth of Spain’s gross domestic product and many of its residents believe they are disproportionately taxed by the government in Madrid.

In November 2014, then Catalan President Artur Mas staged a symbolic independence referendum after the government in Madrid blocked his bid to hold an official referendum.

Nearly 80 percent of the 2.2 million people who took part in the vote backed secession, though the turnout was slightly more than 40 percent. Spain’s Constitutional Court immediately ruled the poll illegal.

The Catalan nationalists regarded the vote as a defining moment. They said the September 2015 election, through which a pro-independence coalition government came to power, was a de facto referendum on the region’s independence.

On December 28, Puigdemont said the region would have a mandate to unilaterally declare independence if over 50 percent of residents voted in favor of the referendum planned to be held in 2017.

However, a poll showed on Thursday that the support for a break from Spain has declined over the past six months.