POLITICS

Spanish government goes to court to halt Catalan independence vote

People wave “estelada” flags, that symbolize Catalonia's independence, in Barcelona, Spain, Thursday, Sept 11, 2014. A week before Scotland votes on whether to break away from the United Kingdom, separatists in northeastern Spain were trying to convince hundreds of thousands to protest across Catalonia to demand a secession sentiment vote that the central government in Madrid insists would be illegal. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

People wave “estelada” flags, that symbolize Catalonia's independence, in Barcelona, Spain, Thursday, Sept 11, 2014. A week before Scotland votes on whether to break away from the United Kingdom, separatists in northeastern Spain were trying to convince hundreds of thousands to protest across Catalonia to demand a secession sentiment vote that the central government in Madrid insists would be illegal. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)  (The Associated Press)

Spain's government has filed appeals before the country's top court to try to halt the powerful northeastern region of Catalonia from staging an independence referendum, the prime minister said Monday.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said the Nov. 9 referendum called by Catalan regional leader Artur Mas represented "a grave attack on the rights of all Spaniards," who under the 1979 Spanish Constitution were the only ones who could vote on issues of sovereignty.

He stressed that the Constitution "was based on the indissoluble unity of the Spanish state" and that while the charter could be amended in the future, right now the government's priority was to defend it. He spoke after a special Cabinet meeting called to discuss the crisis.

He said the government is challenging both the referendum call and a law passed by the Catalan government that allowed Mas to call the vote.

If the Constitutional Court takes on the appeals, as is widely expected to happen this week, both the law and the referendum will automatically be suspended while the court deliberates, a process that could take months or years.

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Unhappy at Spain's refusal to give it more powers, Catalonia has vowed for months to hold the referendum. The move is the latest secession push in Europe following Scotland's recent vote to remain in Britain.

Polls indicate most Catalans favor holding the referendum but are roughly evenly split on independence.

Mas insists the vote will take place but at the same time says he won't do anything illegal.

Catalonia, whose capital is Barcelona, has prepared ballot boxes and begun publicity campaigns to inform the region's 5 million voters about the referendum.

Rajoy said it was not too late for the Catalan government to change direction, adding that he remained opened to talks.

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