Key dates in Catalonia's push for independence

Madrid (AFP) –


Catalonia goes to the polls Thursday, in a vote that pits separatist leaders against candidates who want to stay part of a unified Spain.

Here are the key dates in the history of the wealthy region's independence drive:

- Separatists behind bars, in exile -

November 2017: Catalonia's deposed president Carles Puigdemont goes to Belgium before a Spanish court charges him and other top members of the axed government with sedition and rebellion.

His former deputy Oriol Junqueras and several other secessionists are remanded in custody pending trial.

December 19: Separatists and pro-unity candidates hold their final campaign rallies, with Puigdemont speaking to supporters in scores of Catalan towns via videolink from exile.

It is unclear what will happen should he or Junqueras, who is behind bars, win on Thursday.

- Referendum day -

March 2017: Catalan ex-president Artur Mas is found guilty of "disobedience" for staging the symbolic referendum in 2014. He is banned from holding public office for two years.

June: Puigdemont announces a referendum to be held on October 1 with the following question posed to voters: "Do you want Catalonia to be an independent country in the form of a republic?" Spain's central government vows to block the vote.

October 1: The regional government defies a ban and presses ahead with its referendum. A major police crackdown sends shock waves around the world, putting the spotlight on Catalonia.

Turnout in the referendum is put at about 43 percent, of which 90 percent back independence.

October 27: After a tense few weeks, the Catalan parliament defies multiple warnings from the central government and unilaterally declares independence from Spain.

Madrid swiftly takes the unprecedented step of stripping the region of its autonomy, sacking its government and parliament.

- Parliamentary majority -

September 27, 2015: The pro-independence Together For Yes alliance secures 62 seats in the regional assembly and the radical leftwing separatist group CUP wins 10, giving them an absolute majority.

But the separatist block falls short of winning a majority of votes in the election, which is portrayed as a plebiscite on independence, capturing just 47.8 percent of the ballot.

November 9: All 72 pro-independence lawmakers in the Catalan parliament vote for a resolution that kicks off the process to secede from Spain. The country's Constitutional Court will later strike it down.

January 10, 2016: Puigdemont becomes president of Catalonia.

- Symbolic vote -

November 9, 2014: Catalonia defies Madrid and presses ahead with a symbolic vote on independence. Turnout is just 37 percent, of which over 80 percent -- 1.8 million people -- vote in favour of independence.

- Human chain -

September 11, 2013: Hundreds of thousands of Catalans join hands to form a human chain stretching more than 400 kilometres (250 miles) across the Mediterranean coast to push for independence.

- Demands for independence -

September 11, 2012: More than a million people protest in Barcelona demanding independence for Catalonia. Major demonstrations are held in the following years on the same date, marking Catalonia's national day.

September 20: Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy rejects Mas's call for greater tax-and-spend powers for the region. Mas then calls a snap regional election promising to hold a referendum on Catalonia's future.

November 26: Mas's centre-right CiU alliance wins the snap election overall but fails to secure an absolute majority in the regional parliament.

- 'We are a nation' -

June 2010: Spain's Constitutional Court strikes down parts of the autonomy charter, in response to an appeal filed by Rajoy's conservative Popular Party (PP).

A month later, hundreds of thousands of people protest in Barcelona against the ruling amid chants of "We are a nation, we decide".

March 2006: Catalans agree a new autonomy charter, increasing their fiscal and judicial powers and describing Catalonia as a "nation".