Spanish PM urges talks over Catalonia referendum

People demonstrate against the Constitutional Court ruling against the referendum, in Tarragona, Catalonia, north eastern Spain on 30 September 2014. Image copyright EPA
Image caption Hundreds of thousands of Catalans have taken to the streets in recent weeks, to demand a vote.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has called for talks with the Catalan regional authorities about their planned independence referendum.

On Friday, Catalan leader Artur Mas said he would press ahead with the vote despite a Constitutional Court ruling on Monday that it would be illegal.

But Mr Rajoy said no-one was above the law and Spain should stay united.

Many of Catalonia's 7.5 million inhabitants have long complained they get a raw deal from Spain's government.

With approximately 16% of the Spanish population and a distinct language and culture, it is one of Spain's richest regions, as well as one of its most independent-minded.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Mr Rajoy said there were ways out of the situation
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Catalonia's President Artur Mas says Catalonian leaders are "united" on plans to press ahead.

'Let's stay together'

"The law and dialogue, these are the ways out of the situation in Catalonia," urged Mr Rajoy on Saturday, adding: "I want us to stay together."

His comments came a day after Catalan leaders said they were "united" on the issue, which threatens to trigger Spain's biggest constitutional crisis in decades.

The pro-independence government of Catalonia said on Friday it is examining possible legal arguments to persuade Spain's Constitutional Court to lift its provisional suspension of the vote.

The Court decided unanimously last month to hear the government's case against the referendum, which automatically suspended the vote until it hears arguments and makes a decision - a process that could take years.

Most lawmakers in the Catalan parliament in Barcelona favour staging a vote, but the central government and most members of Spain's national parliament oppose it, arguing it violates the Spanish constitution's stipulation that only the national government can call referendums on sovereignty, and that all Spaniards are entitled to vote in such a ballot.

Partly inspired by September's independence referendum in Scotland - although voters there rejected independence - hundreds of thousands of Catalans have protested on the streets in recent weeks, demanding their own vote.

Polls suggest most Catalans favour holding the vote, but are roughly evenly split on independence.

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