Spain moves to block Catalonia independence

Spain’s Constitutional Court on Monday suspended an independence referendum called by Catalonia for November 9, although leaders of the rich northeastern region vowed to press ahead anyway with preparations for the vote.

The unanimous and expected decision by the court’s 12 judges came just hours after Spain’s central government asked it to declare the independence referendum illegal on the grounds that it breaches the country’s constitution.

The court said in a statement that it had accepted the appeal and had suspended the referendum while it considers the central government’s arguments. The court had up to five months to give its ruling although it can request an extension.

The head of the regional government of Catalonia, Artur Mas, signed a decree on Saturday calling for the referendum.

Since then a luminous clock on Barcelona’s historic Sant Jaume square has been ticking down the seconds to November 9 and television and radio stations in the region have aired ads informing the public of the vote.

Conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said he “deeply” regretted Mas’s move, saying it “divides Catalans, alienates them from Europe and the rest of Spain and seriously harms their welfare”.

Buoyed by mass street demonstrations, Mas has pushed ahead for a vote in defiance of Rajoy’s warnings.

“You cannot use the law to prevent people indefinitely from stating their opinion,” Mas said in a television interview on Sunday in anticipation of Monday’s appeal.

“Voting on November is the best thing for everyone because it will allow us and also the Spanish government to know what the Catalan people’s opinion is.”

The main opposition Socialist Party is calling for a constitutional reform instead of a vote to answer Catalan demands for greater autonomy.

The Socialists’ leader Pedro Sanchez on Monday said the referendum plan “deeply damages Spanish democracy”.

Fitch Ratings has chimed in also by placing the Autonomous Community of Catalonia’s (Catalonia) and Institut Catala de Finances’ (ICF) Long-term foreign and local currency Issuer Default Ratings (IDR) of ‘BBB-‘ on Rating Watch Negative (RWN).

Their Short-term foreign currency IDRs of ‘F3’ have also been placed on RWN. Catalonia’s EMTN programme and bond issues, rated ‘BBB-‘, were also placed on RWN.

The last scheduled review date for Fitch’s ratings of the Autonomous Community of Catalonia was on 25 July 2014 and the next review date for 2015 has not yet been set.