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Spain Rules Catalonia Referendum Illegal

People protest the National Court's decision to imprison civil society leaders without bail, in front of the Palau Generalitat in Barcelona, Spain, Oct. 17, 2017.

Spain's top court ruled Catalonia's independence referendum illegal Tuesday, saying that the regional law backing it violated Spain's constitution.

The Catalan government had passed the "self-determination referendum law" on September 6. Spain's high court said the law must be suspended temporarily as it assessed the Spanish government's opposition to it, but Catalonia went ahead with the referendum on October 1.

According to court regulations, the suspension was to last five months while judges come up with a ruling, but the pro-independence coalition ruling Catalonia claimed that the universal right to self-determination outweighs Spain's laws.

But Catalonia's government spokesperson, Jordi Turull, told reporters Tuesday that Catalonia would not "surrender" its secession bid and reiterated calls for talks with Madrid on what he called "a democratic mandate" for independence.

Spain has given Catalonia until Thursday to reverse any moves it has made to secede or face direct rule from Madrid.

Protests in Catalonia continued Tuesday and Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Cuixart, leaders of the separatist movement, remained jailed without bail as they are investigated for sedition.

Prosecutors accuse Cuixart of the Omnium Cultural movement and Sanchez of the Catalan National Assembly of provoking violence against police during a pro-independence march last month.

Catalonia, Spain's most prosperous region, is home to 7.5 million people. Its capital, Barcelona, is one of Europe's major tourist attractions. Catalonia has its own language and distinct culture, and is deeply divided over independence.

The Catalan government said that 90 percent of Catalans voted for independence from Spain in the October 1 referendum. Many opponents of independence boycotted the vote, reducing turnout to around 43 percent of eligible voters.