Spain’s constitutional court has suspended a resolution by Catalonia’s regional parliament calling a referendum on independence next year.
In a press release, the court said it was provisionally suspending the resolution before pronouncing a definitive judgement within five months.
Catalan President Carles Puigdemont has pledged to hold such a vote, whether or not Madrid agrees. The regional parliament with its separatist majority – 72 votes out of 135 – subsequently approved his plan on October 6.
Relations between Madrid and Barcelona have become more strained since Spain’s conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy came to power in 2011.
His government has indicated it is willing to discuss autonomy in matters such as finance and infrastructure. But it draws the line at moves towards self-determination.
In November 2014 Catalonia held a symbolic, non-binding vote on independence – it too came after the constitutional court banned a referendum.
More than 80 percent backed independence but only around two-fifths of eligible voters took part.
Opinion polls have suggested the wealthy northeastern region is roughly divided in half over splitting from Spain.
As the economy has struggled in recent years many people resent paying taxes to Madrid to subsidise poorer areas.