Spain's constitutional court suspended the call for a referendum on Catalonia's independence after agreeing to review an appeal by central authorities in Madrid.
The move was widely expected after Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy announced that the government was challenging both a controversial law meant to legitimize the independence vote and a decree signed Wednesday by the regional Catalan government summoning voters for the Oct. 1 ballot.
The reaction to the court's decision by leaders in Catalonia, a prosperous region in northeastern Spain, also didn't come as a surprise. Carles Puigdemont, the regional president and one of the main promoters of the referendum, said that neither central Spanish authorities nor the courts could halt their plans.
"We will respond to the tsunami of lawsuits with a tsunami of democracy," Puigdemont told local broadcaster 8TV. He also boasted that more than 16,000 people had already registered online as volunteers and that more than half of the mayors in Catalonia were supporting the vote.
Spain's constitutional court has previously ruled that a referendum can only be called with the approval of the central authorities. But Puigdemont's pro-independence coalition claims that the universal right to self-determination overrules Spain's laws.
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The president of Spain's Catalonia region on Saturday vowed to press ahead with an independence referendum, that Madrid insists would be illegal, calling for mass demonstrations next week in support of a split.
"We have the full force of the state against us," Carles Puigdemont told a meeting of party officials in Barcelona.
"Faced with judicial proceedings and threats... the regional government is more determined than ever" to hold the plebiscite as planned on October 1, he said.
After sparking Spain's deepest political crisis in 40 years this week by voting to push ahead with the referendum, Catalonia's separatist-controlled regional parliament upped the ante by passing a bill early Friday outlining a transition to a possible independent republic.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy shot back at the Catalan government's plans.
"There will not be a referendum," Rajoy told officials from his conservative Party Popular on Saturday.
"It's my duty to preserve national unity," the premier said, adding that the laws passed by the regional government paving the way towards a referendum "illegal and anti-democratic."
Puigdemont, a lifelong proponent on independence for the region in northeast Spain, is hoping to mobilise supporters in a show of legitimacy in the face of Madrid's threats to halt the vote by any means possible.
He urged supporters of independence to take to the streets on Monday -- the region's national holiday.
"On Monday we will overwhelm them peacefully and democratically, as always," he said.
Opinion polls show that Catalans are evenly divided on independence. But over 70 percent want a referendum to take place to settle the matter, similar to the plebiscite held in Scotland in 2014.
The Catalan government staged a symbolic independence referendum in 2014, when more than 80 percent of participants voted to split from Spain -- though only 2.3 million of Catalonia's 5.4 million eligible voters took part.
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Barcelona’s mayor has asked for reassurances that municipal staff would not face legal action or lose their jobs if they helped to organize an Oct. 1 referendum on Catalonia seceding from Spain.
However, some of the region’s nearly 1,000 mayors have already said they would go ahead with the vote, despite it being declared illegal by Madrid.
Having originally offered to allow premises across the city to be used as polling stations, Barcelona mayor Ada Colau has asked the Catalan government for further reassurances that civil servants involved would be protected, her office said.
“We support the right to participate and protest completely but we will repeat what we have said many times before: we will not put at risk institutions or civil servants,” Barcelona’s deputy mayor, Gerardo Pisarello, said on Friday.
Catalonia’s parliament voted on Wednesday to hold an independence referendum on Oct. 1, setting up a clash with the Spanish government that has vowed to stop what it says would be an illegal vote.
Polls in the northeastern region show support for self-rule waning as Spain’s economy improves. But the majority of Catalans do want the opportunity to vote on whether to split from Spain.
As of Friday night, 674 of Catalonia’s 948 municipal districts had informed the government of their intention to allow city spaces to be used for the vote, according to the Municipal Association for Independence (AMI).
In a video posted on Twitter, the mayor of the Cerdanyola municipality tore in half a letter from the Constitutional Court warning of the legal repercussions of participating in the referendum to applause from the crowd watching.
Pro-independence groups protested on Friday outside the offices of several mayors across Catalonia who announced they would not allow municipal spaces to be used for the vote.
On Saturday, Spanish police searched the offices of a weekly newspaper in the town of Valls in search of ballot papers, according to newspaper La Vanguardia. On Friday, the Civil Guard police searched a printing company near Tarragona, reportedly in search of materials to be used in the independence vote.
Spain’s Civil Guard police was unavailable for comment but a court statement said the searches were related to charges brought by the public prosecutor in relation to the referendum.