MADRID (Reuters) - Spain's Constitutional Court blocked a Catalan secession drive on Wednesday, deepening confrontation and adding to political uncertainty in Spain before this month's national election.
The Constitutional Court, in an unusually rapid decision, struck down a resolution by the Catalan regional assembly last month which set out a plan to establish a republic within 18 months in the well-off northeastern region which accounts for about a fifth of Spain's economic output.
Declaring the resolution unconstitutional, the court said the Catalan assembly "cannot set itself up as a source of legal and political legitimacy to the point of assuming the authority to violate the constitutional order."
The court was ruling on an appeal by the center-right government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who has called Catalonian independence "nonsense" and declared that it will never happen.
Rajoy welcomed the ruling. "The immense majority of Spaniards who believe in Spain, national sovereignty and the equality of Spaniards will be very pleased," he said during a speech.
There was no immediate reaction from Catalan leaders.
Parties favoring a split from Spain won a majority of seats in the Catalan parliament in September, although they fell just short of half the vote.
Pro-independence parties took the election result as an endorsement of their plan to start a process towards a split from Spain after Rajoy's government rejected calls for a referendum similar to the one that culminated in Scotland opting to remain part of Britain in 2014.
Since the Catalan assembly has said it will ignore decisions by the Constitutional Court, the ruling is likely to deepen the standoff between Catalonia and the central government in Madrid.
Spain's parliament in October gave the Constitutional Court powers to fine or suspend authorities that do not carry out its rulings, shoring up its legal powers to deal with any Catalan independence bid.
The next steps are complicated by national politics. Rajoy, running for re-election in a Dec. 20 general election, is ahead in the polls but his People's Party is seen falling short of the majority needed to govern alone.
Opposition to Catalan independence is a vote winner across the political spectrum in the rest of Spain, especially for Rajoy's party and newcomers Ciudadanos, a centrist party founded in Catalonia.
Catalan politicians have so far been unable to agree on a new head of the regional government, which could force the region to hold new elections next year.
(Reporting by Adrian Croft, Raquel Castillo, Inmaculada Sanz; Editing by Julien Toyer/Ruth Pitchford)