(Reuters) - Spain's central government took the first step on Monday towards blocking a "consultation of citizens" that the Catalonia region intends to hold next month in the place of a full referendum on independence from Spain that was barred by a court.
The wealthy, northeastern region earlier this month dropped plans to hold the referendum planned for Nov. 9, but said it would still stage a non-binding vote that would be open to anyone who wanted to cast their ballot.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has vowed to block the initiative if it were found to be illegal and on Monday asked the Council of State for its opinion on this new consultation -- the first legal step towards preventing the vote.
In a statement released on its website, the prime minister's office said Rajoy had asked the Council to issue its ruling as a matter of emergency so that a decision could be made on how to respond at Friday's cabinet meeting.
Catalonia has its own language and culture. Its long-standing independence movement has grown over the last decade, fueled by Spain's economic crisis and a refusal by Madrid to meet regional demands for more autonomy.
Spain's Constitutional Court suspended the independence referendum after the government asked it to declare the vote illegal. It could now take years to make a definitive ruling.