MADRID - Catalonia's regional government said on Tuesday it would temporarily suspend formal campaigning for a referendum on independence from Spain, after Madrid filed a legal appeal to stop the vote taking place.
Madrid argues that the vote, called by Catalan leader Artur Mas for Nov. 9, would breach Spain's rule of law because it would be held in Catalonia alone, rather than in the whole of Spain. It filed an appeal on Monday with the Constitutional Court to stop it going ahead, which Catalan officials now want to try and overturn.
With official campaigning halted for now, secessionist grassroots movements, which have swelled in recent years in the wealthy northeastern region and set the political agenda there, are likely to take center stage.
Protesters are expected to gather outside town halls across Catalonia later on Tuesday, with some demanding the November non-binding vote take place regardless of its legality.
Hundreds of thousands of people had already packed onto the streets of Barcelona on Sept. 11, the region's national day, calling for the right to vote on a potential split from Spain.
That fervor was boosted by a Scottish referendum on independence from Britain in September, even though it ended in a 'No' vote.
The legal suspension of Catalonia's plans had been expected for months, although Mas defied Madrid by calling the vote anyway, and is still pushing for ways for it to go ahead.
“In the next few hours we will file our allegations to overturn the suspension of the vote,” Francesc Homs, official spokesman for the Catalan government, told reporters on Tuesday.
“Although we have withdrawn our campaign, we are not pulling out,” he said.
A large majority of people in Catalonia, a region with its own widely spoken language and distinct culture, agree that they want to hold a referendum on independence, polls show, and support for independence has been rising -- although not to the point where it is clear that the region would vote to break away from Spain.