- The court's decision is the second time the vote has been suspended
- The Spanish government calls the referendum unconstitutional
- Polls show Catalans want a chance to vote, but might not vote for independence
A controversial referendum on Catalonia's future as part of Spain has again been put on hold by a court, just days before the planned vote on Sunday.
Spain's Consitutional Court on Tuesday suspended -- for the second time since September -- a referendum on independence for Catalonia, the wealthy, restive region in northeast Spain whose capital is Barcelona.
The court said in a statement that it again suspended the referendum while it considers an appeal from the Spanish government that challenged the independence vote as "unconstitutional."
Hundreds of thousands of Catalans have demonstrated in recent years for an independence referendum, and they closely watched the recent independence vote in Scotland. Even after Scotland voted to remain a part of the United Kingdom, many Catalans said the key issue was being allowed to vote in Catalonia on independence.
But the Spanish government insists that the constitution does not permit just one of Spain's 17 regions, such as Catalonia, to unilaterally break away.
Catalonia represents about 20% of Spain's economy and already has broad home-rule powers, including its own parliament, police force and control over education and health. The region also has a long list of grievances with Madrid, including over taxation.
The first showdown came in September, after the Catalan regional parliament approved a law allowing referendums, and then a decree by the Catalan president set November 9 as the date. The Spanish government appealed and the Constitutional Court accepted that for study, effectively suspending the vote.
Next, the Catalan president said there would still be a referendum, but it would be less formal, so it would be permissible under the law. It would be called a "consultation," and would be conducted by volunteers at polling places, instead of the usual electoral officials. The court has now suspended that as well.
Yet preparations continue for holding some kind of vote on Sunday in Catalonia. Citizens groups which have pushed hard to hold the referendum, and which also favor independence, sent notifications on Tuesday to news media about where to pick up accreditations in Barcelona in order to follow the election results on Sunday night.
Polls indicate that a majority of Catalans want to have a chance to vote. Some polls show that less than a majority would vote for independence, given the chance. But a survey last week by the Catalan government's polling center predicted a very close fight, with 49.4% saying they would vote to break away from Spain.