Catalan lawmakers vote in favour of laws approving a referendum and legal framework to set up an independent state in northeastern Spain.

An Estelada (Catalan separatist flag) flies next to a green traffic light in Alella town, north of Barcelona, Spain, September 5, 2017.
An Estelada (Catalan separatist flag) flies next to a green traffic light in Alella town, north of Barcelona, Spain, September 5, 2017. (Reuters)

Catalonia's regional parliament in Barcelona on Wednesday agreed to vote on a disputed bill that paves the way for a referendum on independence from Spain.

The referendum, which is fiercely opposed by the Spanish government in Madrid, will be held on October 1 of this year.

The motion to vote on the bill was approved with 72 votes in favour, 60 against and three abstentions.

Opponents of independence for the wealthy northeastern region of Spain greeted the decision with jeers.

Madrid meanwhile called on the country’s Constitutional Court to declare the Catalan law null and void, describing the move by the Catalan parliament as “an act of force.” 

"What is happening in the Catalan parliament is embarrassing, it's shameful," Spain's deputy prime minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria told reporters in Madrid. 

Spanish courts have already suspended from office Catalan politicians who organised a non-binding referendum in 2014, which returned a "yes" vote on a low turnout.

In addition, a Spanish audit office has demanded the former leader of Catalonia, Artur Mas, and other politicians pay a $6 million (5 million euro) fine by September 25 for holding the 2014 vote, El Pais newspaper reported on Tuesday.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy told a news conference on Monday that the government would come down with all the force of the law to ensure no referendum would go ahead.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy gestures during a parliamentary plenary session on the Gurtel corruption case dealing with the alleged illegal financing scheme within his conservative Peoples Party (PP) in Madrid, Spain, August 30, 2017.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy gestures during a parliamentary plenary session on the Gurtel corruption case dealing with the alleged illegal financing scheme within his conservative Peoples Party (PP) in Madrid, Spain, August 30, 2017. (Reuters)

"In one day they hope to do away with the constitution and national sovereignty. They will not do it," he said. "No one can do away with Spanish democracy."

Catalonia’s regional government head Carles Puigdemont described such moves by Madrid as intimidation ahead of the planned referendum.

Puigdemont said in a recent briefing with journalists that there will be no minimum turnout requirement to make the result of the vote binding.

Ballot boxes, voting papers and an electoral census are at the ready, he said.

Under the terms of the new laws, the Catalan parliament will declare independence within 48 hours of a "yes" vote.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies