August 28, 2017 / 3:38 PM / a month ago

Catalan parties step up referendum planning in clash with Madrid

FILE PHOTO: Supporters holds a "Estelada" (Catalan separatist flag) during a meeting about the terms and conditions of the independence referendum in Barcelona, Spain July 4, 2017. REUTERS/Albert Gea

MADRID (Reuters) - Pro-separatist parties in the Spanish region of Catalonia said on Monday they were going ahead with legal preparations to create an independent state as they prepare for a disputed referendum on secession in October.

The row over Catalonia’s planned independence referendum, which is firmly opposed by the central government in Madrid, had briefly faded after an Islamist attack in Barcelona and another in the resort of Cambrils on Aug. 17 and 18.

But it is likely to intensify in coming weeks as pro-separatist parties, which control the regional assembly in Catalonia, lay the groundwork for the vote they want to hold on Oct. 1.

On Monday, Catalan party leaders outlined the legal framework for the transition to an independent republic they say would take effect if a majority of people in Catalonia vote “yes” to splitting from Spain.

It is not clear, however, if and how the referendum can take place. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s conservative government has vowed to strike down any further secessionist challenges in court.

Spain’s Constitutional Court has already halted attempts to fast-track other preparations for the referendum, and it probably will be asked to invalidate the framework for independence as soon as it is approved by Catalonia’s regional assembly.

The proposed law, which will be put to the regional assembly before Oct. 1, includes provisions for dual Catalan-Spanish nationality and a new judicial system.

The war of words between Catalonia and the central government has escalated in recent days, in spite of a huge demonstration in Barcelona on Saturday where leaders from across the political spectrum turned out to march together after the attacks, which killed 16 people.

On Sunday, Rajoy called on those in favor of breaking away to give up their plans. Days earlier, the leader of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, had charged the central government with deliberately underfunding the region’s security forces.

Opinion polls have long shown that a majority of people in Catalonia, an affluent northeastern region with its own language and culture, favor holding a referendum on their status.

But recent surveys have shown enthusiasm for secession dipping and that fewer than half of Catalans actually support breaking away.

Reporting by Inmaculada Sanz and Sarah White; Editing by Angus Berwick

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