Spain's Catalonia region sets independence vote for Oct. 1 despite protest from Madrid

Spain’s prosperous Catalonia region has set the date for a vote for independence – despite anger coming out of the country’s capital city.

The region’s pro-independence ruling government managed to get enough votes to pass the referendum law amid a testy parliament session that lasted 11 hours and saw 52 opposition members walk out of the chamber in protest.

The support of 72 pro-independence lawmakers was enough to pass the measure, after the opposition members walked out before the voting started. Eleven lawmakers abstained from voting.

The vote for independence on Oct. 1, however, will face a tough test from the Spanish government by appealing to the country’s constitutional court, which has previously ruled that a referendum can only be called with the approval of central authorities.

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Catalonia regional President Carles Puigdemont signed a decree officially calling for a “self-determination referendum of Catalonia." His entire cabinet, which includes politicians from various pro-independence parties, also approved the document to dilute responsibility is case of prosecution.

The referendum clashes with the Spanish Constitution, which only gives national authorities the right to call such a vote. But Catalonia's pro-independence lawmakers approved a bill earlier Wednesday that is meant to provide a legal justification for the independence vote.

“The concert of state and patriotic unities that go beyond the rights of citizens don’t have a place in today’s Europe,” Puigdemont said. "Catalonia belongs to this world that looks forward, and that's why it will decide its own future on the 1st of October."

Catalonia's renewed push for secession has opened one of Spain's deepest political and institutional crises of recent years. Although much of the blame has been put on the pro-independence bloc in the regional parliament, Rajoy's conservative government has been criticized for letting the situation get this far.

Puigdemont's government claims it has a democratic mandate to seek a binding independence referendum based on the universal right to self-determination. However, approval for the referendum law came after more than 11 hours of heated debate.

The parliamentary debate in Barcelona saw tensions flare when the regional body's top speaker, Carme Forcadell, announced that a vote on the bill would proceed before the legislation had undergone the customary legal vetting. The vote had not appeared on the day's agenda until the very last minute.

The Spanish government is trying to strike a delicate balance between offsetting the secessionist defiance and staying away from more dramatic measures that would further inflame anti-Spanish sentiments, such as suspending Catalonia's autonomous powers or declaring a state of emergency that would bring the army into the mix.

The Catalonia region centered on Barcelona generates a fifth of Spain's gross domestic product. It self-governs in several important areas, such as police, health and education. But key areas such as taxes, foreign affairs and most infrastructures are in the hands of the Spanish government.

Both Catalan and Spanish are spoken in the region of 7.5 million people, and many Catalans feel strongly about their cultural heritage and traditions.

The pro-independence bloc has argued that full control would benefit Catalonia, an idea that gained support in times of high unemployment and harsh austerity measures as a result of Spain's 2008-2013 financial crisis.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.