Catalonia's regional government on Friday chose Oct. 1 as the date for a referendum on a split from Spain, stepping up the confrontation with the country's central government, which sees the vote as illegal, the AP reports. Regional president Carles Puigdemont said Catalans will be asked to answer yes or no to a single question: "Do you want Catalonia to become an independent state in the form of a republic?" The country's Constitutional Court has already invalidated previous attempts by the northeastern region to gain more autonomy. Several Catalan politicians, including former regional president Artur Mas, have been fined or barred from public office for holding a mock referendum in November 2014.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's conservative government called the announcement a "show" by those willing to divide Spain and swore to stop the vote if Catalan politicians or the regional parliament make a formal move toward holding the vote. "They can announce that referendum as many times as they want ... or hold as many events as they want, but the referendum will not be held," Spain's deputy premier said this week. Catalonia represents a fifth of Spain's GDP and has a population of over 7 million. Separatists, who gained support as the economic crisis swelled the number of jobless, say the region's future is brighter outside of Spain. They also say that an independent Catalonia would better defend their strong cultural identity and Catalan language.