SPANISH Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has asked the country’s constitutional court to suspend a bid by leaders in the north-eastern state of Catalonia to hold an independence referendum.

He made the move – as The National predicted yesterday – after an emergency meeting of his cabinet.

Rajoy said the vote, planned for October 1, is illegal and an attack on the institutional order of Spain and Catalonia.

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In a televised appearance, the conservative People’s Party leader said the vote did not have the democratic protections needed to be considered a referendum and promised it would not take place.

He also branded a parliamentary showdown on Wednesday, which approved the referendum’s legal framework, a “political perversion” by the leaders of the Catalan government.

However, the secretary general of the Diplomatic Council of Catalonia (Diplocat) defended the move.

Albert Royo Mariné told The National: “The 2010 Constitutional Court’s ruling on Catalonia’s Statute of Autonomy was the real attack to Spain’s and Catalonia’s institutional order. That destroyed an agreement between the Catalan people and the Spanish people. That destroyed the Spanish transition consensus, which secured that Spain’s old nations (Catalonia, the Basque Country and Galicia) would enjoy self-rule; that was a real coup d’état performed by a politicised court (controlled by the People’s Party, with strong links with the Francoist regime).

“The Spanish institutions are not offering any alternative between status quo and a unilateral self-determination referendum.

“The Parliament of Catalonia and the resulting government have a clear democratic mandate for the referendum and will honour it.”

Spain’s leading prosecutor said earlier that criminal suits were being lodged to prosecute Catalan officials responsible for scheduling the indy vote.

Jose Manuel Maza said two different lawsuits were in the works – one seeking to punish members of Catalonia’s parliament who allowed the debate and vote on the legal framework, and another against the executive branch of the regional government, whose members officially called the referendum.

He said the officials could be charged with disobedience, abuse of power and embezzlement.

The state prosecutor’s office has also instructed officials and police forces in Catalonia to investigate and stop any actions taken towards the celebration of the poll.

Rajoy said in his address: “There won’t be a self-determination referendum because that would be taking away from other Spaniards the right to decide their future.”

The heavily politicised constitutional court has previously ruled that a referendum can only be called with the approval of central authorities.

However, the pro-independence coalition in power in Catalonia said it had a democratic mandate to deliver on a promise to seek independence and that the universal right to self-determination overruled Spain’s laws.

Carles Puigdemont, its regional president, signed the decree for the vote late on Wednesday.

“Patriotic unities that go beyond the rights of citizens don’t have a place in today’s Europe,” said Puigdemont.

He added that Catalonia belonged to “the world that looks forward” by holding the referendum.

Rajoy is trying to strike a delicate balance between tamping down the secessionist defiance but staying away from dramatic measures that would further inflame anti-Spanish sentiments, such as suspending Catalonia’s autonomous powers or declaring a state of emergency, which could bring the military into the mix.

His government has not disclosed what other possible measures are in the pipeline, but it has vowed to trigger actions in a “proportional” way and “with serenity”.

“The constitution can be modified but through the rules and channels established, never through disobedience,” said Rajoy.

Although much of the blame for the institutional crisis has been put on the pro-independence bloc in the Catalan parliament, Rajoy’s government is being targeted by other political parties for letting the situation worsen.

Catalonia generates a fifth of Spain’s gross domestic product. From its capital Barcelona, it self-governs in several important areas, such as policing, health and education, but key areas such as taxes, foreign affairs and most infrastructures are in the hands of the Madrid government.

Catalan and Spanish are spoken in the region of 7.5 million people, and many Catalans feel strongly about their cultural heritage and traditions.

The pro-independence bloc has argued that full control would benefit Catalonia, and Catalan leaders have pledged to proclaim a new republic within 48 hours if the “yes” side wins the referendum, regardless of turnout.