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Catalan government 'scraps November 9 independence referendum'

Catalonia's nationalist government, led by Artur Mas, will announce an alternative proposal on Tuesday, he added - PHOTO: AFP

[BARCELONA] The Catalan government on Monday decided not to push ahead with a contested independence referendum planned for November 9 and considered unconstitutional by Madrid, a regional party leader said.

"The (regional) government has determined that the consultation can't take place," Joan Herrera of the Initiative for Catalonia told reporters following a meeting of pro-referendum parties with the Catalan government.

Catalonia's nationalist government, led by Artur Mas, will announce an alternative proposal on Tuesday, he added.

Leaders of the rich northeastern region are locked in a tense standoff with Spain's central government over the vote.

Spain's conservative government says the non-binding referendum is illegal and the country's Constitutional Court has suspended it while it deliberates on its legality, a process that could take years.

The decision to cancel next month's vote on separation from the rest of Spain comes after a top member of the Catalan government on Monday opened the door to a possible delay.

"Catalonia is determined to channel its concerns through legal and peaceful means... We will achieve this on November 9, or we will achieve it on a later date," Felip Puig, who is in charge of business and labour for the Catalan government, told journalists in Barcelona.

Catalonia's nationalist government has vowed to go ahead with the referendum despite the court ruling but it has already missed some necessary steps, such as the publication of the location of voting stations or of the list of eligible voters.

Proud of their distinct language and culture, residents in the northeastern region have long complained they get a raw deal from the government in Madrid, which decides how their taxes are spent.

They have been fired up by last month's independence referendum in Scotland, even though voters there rejected a separation from Britain.

The region accounts for about a fifth of Spain's economy, but has been hit hard, like much of the country, by the recent years of recession.

But an October 5 poll showed only 23 per cent of Catalans supported the idea of forging ahead with the referendum and 45 per cent wanted the regional authorities to comply with the stay ordered by the Constitutional Court.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy also reached out to Catalans on Spain's national day on Sunday to stress the common "deep roots" that Catalans shared with other Spaniards.

In a comment published in the Catalan language edition of El Pais newspaper, the conservative leader said his government was ready to build "bridges" in its negotiations with Catalans. - AFP