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Catalonia calls off independence vote, to hold unofficial secession poll

President of the Catalonian regional government Artur Mas gives a press conference at the Generalitat of Catalonia in Barcelona on October 14, 2014. Catalonia leader vows to hold independence vote in new form on Nov 9, 2014. The Catalan government on October 13, 2014 decided not to push ahead with a contested independence referendum planned for November 9 and considered unconstitutional by Madrid, a regional party leader said.
President of the Catalonian regional government Artur Mas gives a press conference at the Generalitat of Catalonia in Barcelona on October 14, 2014. Catalonia leader vows to hold independence vote in new form on Nov 9, 2014. The Catalan government on October 13, 2014 decided not to push ahead with a contested independence referendum planned for November 9 and considered unconstitutional by Madrid, a regional party leader said. JOSEP LAGO/AFP/Getty Images

BARCELONA, Spain – The leader of Spain’s separatist-minded Catalonia region called off a Nov. 9 independence vote on Tuesday but said an unofficial poll would still be held that day to gauge secessionist sentiment.

Separatists in the wealthy northeastern region of Catalonia, which has 7.5 million people, have been trying for several years to hold a vote to break away from Spain and carve out a new Mediterranean nation.

Catalonia leader Artur Mas insisted his regional government was not backtracking with the decision. He said it still intends to push ahead with an official vote at a later date but added the symbolic vote would serve as a “preliminary” ballot.

“The Catalan government maintains its goal of holding a referendum on Nov. 9, it means there will be polling stations open, with ballot boxes and ballots,” said Mas. “It will depend on the people for a strong enough participation to show that people here want to vote.”

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Mas was forced to suspended the referendum after the Spanish government challenged its legality before Spain’s constitutional Court, which suspended its staging while it deliberates on the issue.

Spain says only the Spanish state can call referendums on sovereignty and that all Spaniards would be entitled to vote.

Mas said with the referendum suspended, the Catalan government would rely on another law that allows a public consultation. He said the decision had caused a fracture among the region’s pro-vote parties.