Spain's Catalonia calls off independence vote

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Spain's Catalonia calls off independence vote
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy (L) and president of Catalonia's regional government Artur Mas pose before a meeting at the Moncloa place in Madrid on July 30, 2014. Rajoy recently recognized a 'problem' between the central government and Catalonia, which accounts for 20% of Spain's wealth, with the situation being totally blocked for two years and the region experiencing a strong push for independence. The region intends to organize a referendum on self-determination on November 9, despite fierce opposition from Madrid. AFP PHOTO / PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU (Photo credit should read PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU/AFP/Getty Images)
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy (L) and president of Catalonia's regional government Artur Mas speak during a meeting at the Moncloa place in Madrid on July 30, 2014. Rajoy recently recognized a 'problem' between the central government and Catalonia, which accounts for 20% of Spain's wealth, with the situation being totally blocked for two years and the region experiencing a strong push for independence. The region intends to organize a referendum on self-determination on November 9, despite fierce opposition from Madrid. AFP PHOTO / PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU (Photo credit should read PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU/AFP/Getty Images)
President of the Catalonian Government Artur Mas speaks during a press conference after a meeting with the Spanish Prime Minister at the Moncloa palace in Madrid on July 30, 2014. The leader of Spain's economically powerful region of Catalonia said Wednesday he was 'determined' to press ahead with an independence referendum in November despite opposition from the national government. AFP PHOTO / PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU (Photo credit should read PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU/AFP/Getty Images)
President of the Catalonian Government Artur Mas speaks during a press conference after a meeting with the Spanish Prime Minister at the Moncloa palace in Madrid on July 30, 2014. The leader of Spain's economically powerful region of Catalonia said Wednesday he was 'determined' to press ahead with an independence referendum in November despite opposition from the national government. AFP PHOTO / PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU (Photo credit should read PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU/AFP/Getty Images)
President of the Catalonian Government Artur Mas speaks during a press conference after a meeting with the Spanish Prime Minister at the Moncloa palace in Madrid on July 30, 2014. The leader of Spain's economically powerful region of Catalonia said Wednesday he was 'determined' to press ahead with an independence referendum in November despite opposition from the national government. AFP PHOTO / PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU (Photo credit should read PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU/AFP/Getty Images)
President of the Catalonian Government Artur Mas speaks during a press conference after a meeting with the Spanish Prime Minister at the Moncloa palace in Madrid on July 30, 2014. The leader of Spain's economically powerful region of Catalonia said Wednesday he was 'determined' to press ahead with an independence referendum in November despite opposition from the national government. AFP PHOTO / PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU (Photo credit should read PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU/AFP/Getty Images)
President of the Catalonian Government Artur Mas speaks during a press conference after a meeting with Spanish Prime Minister at the Moncloa palace in Madrid on July 30, 2014. The leader of Spain's economically powerful region of Catalonia said Wednesday he was 'determined' to press ahead with an independence referendum in November despite opposition from the national government. AFP PHOTO / PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU (Photo credit should read PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU/AFP/Getty Images)
President of the Catalonian Government Artur Mas arrives to a press conference after is meeting with Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy at Moncloa palace in Madrid on July 30, 2014. The leader of Spain's economically powerful region of Catalonia said Wednesday he was 'determined' to press ahead with an independence referendum in November despite opposition from the national government. AFP PHOTO / PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU (Photo credit should read PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU/AFP/Getty Images)
President of the Catalonian Government Artur Mas arrives to a press conference after is meeting with Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy at Moncloa palace in Madrid on July 30, 2014. The leader of Spain's economically powerful region of Catalonia said Wednesday he was 'determined' to press ahead with an independence referendum in November despite opposition from the national government. AFP PHOTO / PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU (Photo credit should read PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU/AFP/Getty Images)
MADRID, SPAIN - JULY 30: (L-R) Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and Catalonia's President Artur Mas meet at Moncloa Palace on July 30, 2014 in Madrid, Spain. Catalonia's President and leader of the Catalan Convergence and Unity party (CiU) Artur Mas met Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to resolve a dispute over the plans to hold a secession referendum in Catalonia on November. The meeting took place just after the historical leader of Catalan nationalism, Jordi Pujol, who ruled Catalonia for 23 years, resigned to all privileges after committing tax fraud for decades. (Photo by Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images)
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy (C) and president of Catalonia's regional government Artur Mas chat during a meeting at the Moncloa place in Madrid on July 30, 2014. Rajoy recently recognized a 'problem' between the central government and Catalonia, which accounts for 20% of Spain's wealth, with the situation being totally blocked for two years and the region experiencing a strong push for independence. The region intends to organize a referendum on self-determination on November 9, despite fierce opposition from Madrid. AFP PHOTO / PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU (Photo credit should read PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU/AFP/Getty Images)
Catalonia's regional president Artur Mas, right, and Spain's Premier Mariano Rajoy, left, gesture before a meeting at the Moncloa Palace in Madrid, Spain, Wednesday, July 30, 2014. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and the leader of the economically powerful Catalonia region Artur Mas are holding a crucial face-to-face meeting Wednesday in what could be a last chance for the two men to resolve a bitter dispute over the region’s plans to hold a secession referendum in November. (AP Photo/Andres Kudacki)
Catalonia's regional president Artur Mas gestures during a press conference at the Generalitat Palace in Barcelona, Spain, Tuesday, Oct. 14, 2014. Mas called a press conference amid speculation he will discuss the future of an independence referendum the central government in Madrid says would be illegal. Plans for the Spain's powerful northeastern region of Catalonia to hold a secession referendum Nov. 9 look decidedly uncertain as a pro-vote party says Mas told them the poll cannot go ahead. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
People opposed to the independence of the Catalonia region of Spain, hold Catalan and Spanish flags as they celebrate a holiday known as "Dia de la Hispanidad" or Spain's National Day in Barcelona, Spain, Sunday, Oct. 12, 2014. Spain celebrates the day Christopher Columbus discovered America in the name of the Spanish Crown. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)
Students protest against a decision by Spain’s Constitutional Court which found that a vote for a referendum in Catalonia would be unconstitutional, Barcelona, Spain, Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2014. The regional government of Catalonia says it will heed a decision by Spain's top court suspending its plans to hold an independence referendum but vows to continue efforts to hold a vote. Pro-secession supporters have called for demonstrations outside town halls later Tuesday to protest the suspension. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
Students wearing white masks and a black cross covering the mouth protest against a decision by Spain’s Constitutional Court which found that a vote for a referendum in Catalonia would be unconstitutional in Barcelona, Spain, Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2014, The regional government of Catalonia says it will heed a decision by Spain's top court suspending its plans to hold an independence referendum but vows to continue efforts to hold a vote. Pro-secession supporters have called for demonstrations outside town halls later Tuesday to protest the suspension. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
Balconies are decorated with "estelada" flags, that symbolizes Catalonia's independence, and a banner encouraging people to vote for a referendum in Catalonia, in Barcelona, Spain, Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2014. The regional government of Catalonia says it will heed a decision by Spain's top court suspending its plans to hold an independence referendum, but vows to continue efforts to hold a vote. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)
A fan waves a Scottish national flag alongside others waving 'Estelada' flags, that symbolize Catalonia's independence during the Champions League Group F soccer match between Barcelona and Apoel at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Spain, Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2014. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
People wave “estelada” flags, that symbolizes Catalonia's independence, during a demonstration calling for the independence of Catalonia in Barcelona, Spain, Thursday, Sept 11, 2014. A week before Scotland votes on whether to break away from the United Kingdom, separatists in northeastern Spain were trying to convince hundreds of thousands to protest across Catalonia to demand a secession sentiment vote that the central government in Madrid insists would be illegal. AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
Pro independence supporters gather outside the Generalitat Palace, the main head office of the Government of Catalonia, as Catalonia's regional president Artur Mas, signs the decree to call the referendum in Catalonia in Barcelona, Spain, Saturday, Sept. 27, 2014. The president of Spain's powerful northeastern region of Catalonia on Saturday formally called an independence referendum Nov. 9, the latest secession push in Europe and one of the most serious challenges to the Spanish state of recent years. (AP Photo/Jordi Borras)
People wave “estelada” flags, that symbolize Catalonia's independence, during a demonstration calling for the independence of Catalonia outside of the Parliament of Barcelona, Spain, Friday, Sept. 19, 2014. A day after Scotland rejected breaking away from Britain, the regional parliament in Spain's Catalonia is expected to grant its leader the power to call a secession referendum that the central government in Madrid says would be illegal. Banner reads, 'On 9 Nov, we will vote.' (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
People wave “estelada” flags, that symbolize Catalonia's independence, and Spanish flags during a demonstration calling for the independence of Catalonia outside of the Parliament of Barcelona, Spain, Friday, Sept. 19, 2014. A day after Scotland rejected breaking away from Britain, the regional parliament in Spain's Catalonia is expected to grant its leader the power to call a secession referendum that the central government in Madrid says would be illegal.(AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) - The leader of Spain's wealthy Catalonia region on Tuesday called off an independence vote but said an unofficial poll will take place next month to gauge secessionist sentiment.

Artur Mas was forced to cancel the Nov. 9 referendum and replace it with a symbolic one on the same day after Spain's government challenged the referendum in the country's Constitutional Court, which suspended the vote while it deliberates.

Separatists in northeastern Catalonia, which has 7.5 million people, have been trying for several years to hold a breakaway vote from Spain to carve out a new Mediterranean nation.

Secessionist sentiment surged during Spain's economic stagnation and amid discontent at Spain's refusal to give the region more autonomy and fiscal powers.

Polls show most Catalans support holding an independence referendum and around half favor ending centuries-old ties with Spain.

Mas insisted his regional government is not backtracking and still plans an official vote later, saying the symbolic vote will serve as a "preliminary" ballot.

"It means there will be polling stations open, with ballot boxes and ballots," Mas said. "It will depend on the people for a strong enough participation to show that people here want to vote."

The vote questions will be the same, asking residents if they think Catalonia should be a state, and, if so, whether it should be independent.

Spain's Catalonia Region Calls Independence Vote

Madrid's central government has said an independence vote would violate clauses in Spain's constitution specifying that only the national government can call referendums on sovereignty and that all Spaniards must be allowed to vote.

Unlike last month's independence referendum in Scotland, which ended with voters deciding to remain part of the United Kingdom, the vote that Catalonia separatists wanted to hold would have been nonbinding.

Spain's government did not immediately offer a reaction but Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said before Mas spoke that the calling-off of the referendum would be "excellent news."

Regional Catalan politicians who favor staying with Spain said the watered-down Nov. 9 vote will mean nothing.

Alicia Sanchez-Camacho of Spain's ruling Popular Party called the new vote plan "a massive opinion poll." The leader of the Citizens party, Albert Rivera, said Mas should step down or call early regional elections.

"We will not participate in this kind of fictitious referendum," Rivera said.

___

Associated Press Writer Alan Clendenning in Madrid contributed to this report. Giles reported from Madrid.


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