Madrid and Catalonia clash over independence referendum

MADRID Thu Sep 27, 2012 2:50pm EDT

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MADRID (Reuters) - The parliament of Spain's powerful but heavily indebted region of Catalonia voted in favor of holding a referendum on independence on Thursday, in defiance of Madrid which said it would stop any such move towards secession.

The vote in Catalonia, responsible for a fifth of the country's economic output, was backed by 84 parliament members including those of ruling party CiU, while 25 abstained, and 21 voted against holding a referendum.

The vote was held minutes after Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria told reporters the national government was prepared to prevent any referendum.

Catalonia brought forward regional elections to November 25 after regional leader Artur Mas' proposal to create a separate Catalan tax agency was flatly rejected by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who said it went against Spain's Constitution. Mas then said he would seek a referendum on an independent Catalonia.

Mas's conservative CiU party would likely win an absolute majority in elections, polls show, strengthening the push towards independence and delivering a blow to Rajoy who has called for national unity to counter the country's economic crisis.

Independence fervour has been growing in Catalonia during the deep recession.More than half of Catalans say they want a separate state.

Catalonia's regional government says it pays 16 billion euros more to the Spanish state than it receives in transfers.

(Reporting by Julien Toyer and Fiona Ortiz; Writing by Nigel Davies; Editing by Paul Day and Jason Webb)

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