Catalan leader says parliament rejection won't halt referendum
Catalonia President Artur Mas said he would forge ahead with his region's plans to hold a referendum on independence in November after Spain's parliament overwhelmingly rejected the petition.
After a seven-hour debate in the national parliament in Madrid, and despite heavy support for the separatist movement in the wealthy northeastern region, 299 lawmakers voted against, 47 voted for and one abstained.
The regional parliament of Catalonia, which has its own language and a long history of fighting for greater autonomy from Spain, sent the initiative to the national legislature in January asking for permission to hold a referendum.
"They are afraid that the Catalan people vote. Some would like to present this as the end of the matter but, as President of Catalonia, I say to them that it is not the end," Mas said in a live speech in Catalan immediately after votes were counted.
"Catalan institutions will search through the legal frameworks to find a way to continue with this consultation."
Catalan lawmakers said the movement had already gained too much momentum to stop the referendum completely.
All the major parties, including the ruling conservative People's Party (PP), the main opposition group, the Socialists, and the centrist Union for Progress and Democracy (UPyD), voted against the petition. Catalan and Basque nationalist parties voted in favour.
"Maybe I believe in Catalonia more than you do. I love Catalonia like it was my own," Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said during the debate.
"Together we all win, but separate, we all lose. This isn't just a question of law, but of sentiment ... I can't imagine Spain without Catalonia, or Catalonia out of Europe."
The spectre of a breakaway Catalonia, which accounts for a fifth of the Spanish economy and 16 percent of its population, has become a big headache for Rajoy, who is battling high unemployment and the scars of a deep recession.
Mas has already set a date of Nov. 9 for the referendum, two months after an independence vote in Scotland that is being closely watched in Catalonia.
Rajoy has said he will use the courts to block the Catalan government from holding the vote, though Mas argues that if it is a non-binding consultation, it should be legal.
Mas has also signalled he will not break the law. So if the referendum is shut down by the courts, he is expected to use the next election in Catalonia, which must be held by 2016, as a proxy vote on independence.