Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy promised legal proceedings against separatist leaders in Catalonia as the regional assembly approved the legal framework for a referendum on independence, an outright challenge to the Spanish state. Rajoy will ask the Constitutional Court to invalidate the Catalan referendum law and consider criminal charges against Speaker Carme Forcadell and others involved in advancing the legislation. State prosecutors in Catalonia will also seek charges against Forcadell and her colleagues on the parliamentary council who allowed the bill to go forward. The bill passed with the support of 72 out of 135 Catalan lawmakers at about 9:30 p.m. in Barcelona on Wednesday, with most opposition deputies abandoning the chamber in protest before the vote. Catalan President Carles Puigdemont later signed a decree calling the referendum for Oct. 1. The Spanish cabinet will meet Thursday in Madrid to discuss its next move.
“We’ve seen democracy take a kicking,” Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said as she announced the legal measures earlier on Wednesday. “We will protect the law in Spain and democracy in Catalonia.”
The prime minister will hold meetings Thursday with Pedro Sanchez, leader of the Socialist opposition, and Albert Rivera, the head of Ciudadanos, the biggest party in Catalonia that backs remaining part of Spain. Meanwhile in Barcelona, the plenary is holding a session. Forcadell, the speaker, said on her Twitter account that the parliament had also accepted for debate another bill setting out steps for the potential transition to independence.