Spain warns Catalonia against using public money in vote

Spain warns Catalonia against using public money in vote

Barcelona (AFP) - A senior Spanish government official on Thursday warned the wealthy region of Catalonia that it is banned from using public money to stage a symbolic independence referendum this weekend.

Spain's Constitutional Court on Tuesday ordered the Catalan government to suspend the planned vote but regional leader Artur Mas has vowed to press ahead with Sunday's ballot, which will be organised by volunteers without an official electoral roll.

"Efforts to use public resources to stage the consultation or other actions linked to it could go against the court ruling," Madrid's representative in the region wrote in a letter to the Catalan government obtained by AFP.

The letter was sent to the Catalan department that will organise the ballot as well as to the regional education department, which oversees schools where ballot boxes will be installed.

The representative also called on Mas to "avoid violating the decision" by the court.

Mas announced the symbolic vote after the Constitutional Court suspended earlier plans for a non-binding referendum on secession in September.

Catalan officials argue the symbolic vote, which they call a "citizen participation process", is legal.

Experts have warned that they will be breaking constitutional law by carrying out the symbolic vote. It is not yet clear how the central authorities in Spain will respond if it goes ahead.

"We remind once again that the position of the government of Catalonia has always been to comply with the principle of legality," the Catalan government said in a statement in response to the letter from the central government representative.

The Catalan government on Tuesday launched its own lawsuit against Spain's central government, accusing it of curbing freedom of expression by trying to stop the ballot.

Mas has accused the central government of "abuse of power" while Spain's Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria has called the Catalan ballot a "legal fraud".

The Supreme Court said Thursday that the Catalan government's lawsuit was not admissible, arguing the issue was not within its jurisdiction.

Proud of their distinct language and culture, and accounting for nearly a fifth of Spain's economy, Catalonia's 7.5 million inhabitants have increasingly demanded greater autonomy.

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