Catalunya's President Artur Mas, left, speaks during a news conference announcing an independence referendum next to Republican Left (ERC) leader Oriol Junqueras at Palau de la Generalitat in Barcelona on December 12, 2013. Picture: Stringer


Madrid - The Spanish government on Thursday rejected the north-eastern region of Catalonia's plan to stage a referendum on its independence on November 9, 2014, vowing that it would not allow the “illegal act” to take place.

Catalan Prime Minister Artur Mas said the referendum will ask voters if they want the wealthy region - which has a population of 7.6 million - to become “a state,” and if so, whether that state should be independent.

“We now expect the Spanish state to pay attention to ... a people which wants to vote,” Mas said.

But Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon said that “the government guarantees that no illegal act will take place in Spain.”

“Staging a vote of this kind would violate the constitution and (Catalonia's) autonomy statute,” he said, explaining that the region could not independently decide on a matter affecting all of Spain.

Alfonso Alonso, a spokesman for Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's People's Party, said the state “will have to take all measures for the law to be applied normally in Spain.”

He did not say what the measures entailed.

The government has previously pledged court action against the planned referendum. Mas' announcement coincided with a congress of historians taking place in Barcelona.

The congress - called Spain against Catalonia - was organised by an institute dependent on the regional government.

The historians were expected to argue that Catalonia had suffered centuries of political and cultural repression under Spanish rule.

Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo criticised the congress as a “flagrant falsification of history,” while Ruiz-Gallardon said it tried to “bring Spaniards into conflict with each other.”

In its current form, the Catalan separatist movement draws its origins to the 1939-75 dictatorship of Francisco Franco, which stripped the region of the powers it had been granted during Spain's 1931-36 Second Republic and banned the public use of the Catalan language.

After Franco's death in 1975, a democratic Spain granted Catalonia autonomy in areas such as health and education.

The region promotes its language and has its own police force. Spain's economic crisis has stoked separatist sentiment in the region, which many residents feel would have weathered the crisis better if it had not had to transfer part of its tax revenue to Spain's poorer regions.