Spain's Catalan leader says 'determined' to hold independence referendum

Spain's Catalan leader says 'determined' to hold independence referendum
President of the Catalonian Government Artur Mas speaks during a press conference after a meeting with Spanish Prime Minister at the Moncloa palace in Madrid on July 30, 2014.

MADRID - The leader of Spain's economically powerful region of Catalonia said Wednesday he was "determined" to press ahead with an independence referendum in November despite opposition from the national government.

Speaking after holding talks in Madrid with Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, Artur Mas said: "I told him that we are absolutely determined, as I told him a year ago, to hold the consultation." He said Rajoy reiterated his position during their meeting that the referendum would be illegal under Spain's consitution.

Mas, who has headed the Catalan government since 2010, began pushing for the referendum after he failed to clinch a better financial deal from the central government for Catalonia in 2012.

He upped the ante in December when he set November 9 as the date for the poll - two months after Scotland votes on independence from Britain in a referendum authorised by the British government.

Rajoy has insisted that the vote would be illegal since under Spain's constitution referendums on sovereignty must be held nationally and not regionally. He has vowed to block any referendum.

Mas points to polls that show a large majority of Catalans backing his planned referendum to argue it should be allowed to go ahead.

He told the news conference he would like the referendum to have the backing of the national government.

"We want to do it withing a legal framework, like the British vote," he said in a reference to the referendum in Scotland.

With an economy that is roughly the size of Portugal's, Catalonia and its 7.5 million inhabitants - 16 per cent of the Spanish population - have long been an engine for the country as a whole.

But a growing number of Catalans resent the redistribution of their taxes to other parts of Spain and believe the region would be better off on its own.

The 2008 real estate crash that triggered a five-year economic downturn across Spain and a 2010 decision by Spain's constitutional court to water down a 2006 statute giving the region more powers have added to the growing pressure for secession.

Support for independence itself was about 45 per cent in April, according to the regional government's most recent poll. That compares with about 20 per cent in October 2010 before Mas took office.

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