Catalan Leader Takes Power, Vows Nationhood Referendum
The leader of Spain's Catalonia region, Artur Mas, embarked on a new four-year term Monday, vowing to pursue a promised referendum on nationhood with an "iron will".
In his inauguration speech to Catalan political parties and Spanish Budget Minister Cristobal Montoro, he sought "explicit recognition of the right of Catalonia, like any other people of the world, to self-determination".
Mas had called regional elections November 25, promising to organize a referendum on support for creating a new state of 7.5 million people lying northeast of Spain.
But Mas, leader of the conservative Convergence and Union alliance, emerged with his lead over other parties sharply reduced and no absolute majority.
As a result, he was forced to broker a deal with a left-wing pro-independence force, Republican Left of Catalonia, to gain enough votes for his swearing-in.
The agreement pledges the two parties to work for a referendum on nationhood in 2014 despite fierce resistance from Madrid, which says such a move would flout the constitution.
"How to face up to this unique moment?" Mas asked.
"I face up to it with total commitment to overcome the difficulties we find, I face up to it with an iron will to overcome the obstacles," he said.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy made his opposition clear.
"We are all subject to the rule of law," he said when asked about the Catalan referendum in an interview published Monday by conservative daily El Mundo.
"The law will also be obeyed in Catalonia," he added.
Rajoy said he was concerned by the Mas government's plans, saying it had committed itself "to do things that from the economic point of view don't make the least bit of sense".
"It is all bad for Catalonia and bad for the whole of Spain," he said.
Catalonia now accounts for more than one-fifth of Spain's economic output and a quarter of its exports, and boasts one of the world's finest football teams, Barcelona FC.
But many Catalans resent the fact that some their taxes are redistributed to other regions of Spain.
Catalonia, which has a debt of more than 40 billion euros, had to go cap in hand to Madrid this year for more than five billion euros to help make its debt payments, further stoking resentment.