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Catalonia's lawmakers give nod to independence referendum

Catalan lawmakers have passed a law that paves the way for a referendum on independence from the rest of Spain. The vote, which Madrid says would be illegal, could lead to a deep constitutional crisis.

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Catalan parliament separatists sing

Catalonia's regional parliament on Wednesday gave the green light for legislation that would allow a referendum to take place in the northeastern Spanish region.

The vote passed comfortably, with 72 pro-independence members of the Catalan parliament backing the "referendum bill" after more than 11 hours of impassioned debate.

Eleven lawmakers abstained from voting, while 52 opposition members of parliament walked out in protest before the vote was even taken.

The law was passed despite a ruling in February by Spain's constitutional court, declaring it would be unconstitutional. Under the current constitution, only the central government has the right to call such a referendum.

Read more: Terror attacks leave Barcelona and Madrid at odds, as ever

Catalan President Carles Puigdemont's cabinet was expected to immediately sign a decree for the vote to take place on October 1.

After the bill was passed, separatist lawmakers clapped sang the Catalan anthem Els Segadors, which remembers a 1640 revolt against Spain's Habsburg monarchy.

Court challenge likely

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy was understood to have immediately requested a report on the Catalan legislation from the State Council, and was expected to call an urgent cabinet meeting and challenge the regional bill through an appeal to the Constitutional Court.

Independence demonstration

There's strong support for independence in Catalonia, though some figures show it is on the wane

Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said Catalonia's parliament was holding a "fake debate." She said that the vote had breached parliamentary procedures and that it was an "act of force" characteristic of "dictatorial regimes."

Meanwhile, public prosecutors announced they were seeking criminal charges against Generalitat speaker Carme Forcadell for allowing the vote to take place.

Forcadell responded with derision to news that she might be charged. "This is the notion democracy of the institutions of state. At parliament we will continue to guarantee that you can always talk about everything."

No-confidence vote?

The leader of the opposition Ciudadanos (Citizens) party, Ines Arrimadas, immediately announced that she would seek support for a no-confidence vote against Puigdemont, with the aim of forcing new regional elections.

Read more: Catalan independence movement hurts Spanish economy, companies claim

The bill went ahead without the customary vetting of a legal committee. However, Puigdemont has claimed that his government has a democratic mandate to seek a binding referendum based on the principle that a people have a right to self-determination under international law.

Catalonia's regional government staged a symbolic independence referendum in 2014. More than 80 percent of participants voted to split from Spain, although only 2.3 million of Catalonia's 5.4 million eligible voters took part.

On Tuesday, Spain's Court of Auditors ruled that former Catalan president Artur Mas should repay 5.1 million euros ($6.1 million) in public funds that it cost to hold that vote.

The vote was held three weeks after Islamist attacks in Barcelona, Catalonia's capital, and a nearby seaside resort, which killed 16 people and wounded more than 120.

rc/bw (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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