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Tensions are running high among Catalan lawmakers as the regional parliament chose to vote on a bill that lays the ground for a controversial referendum on independence from Spain.

The pro-independence block has argued that full control would benefit Catalonia, an idea that gained support in times of high unemployment and harsh austerity measures as a result of Spain's 2008-2013 financial crisis.

He repeated a phrase he had used on Saturday, calling the planned referendum an "error", and insisted that the Spanish government would "act with proportionality, intelligence, calm and firmness" in order to "ensure the law is obeyed".

Catalonia's regional President Carles Puigdemont (R) and former regional President Artur Mas salute the crowd, after Catalunya Parliament's President Carme Forcadell arrived to the court to testify, in Barcelona, Spain May 8, 2017.

Under the Spanish constitution, referendums on sovereignty must be held nationally, not regionally.

"We will not allow the law to be broken in Spain", Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria told reporters on Wednesday, adding that "Catalonia is getting closer to a dictatorship than a democracy".

But a referendum in defiance of Spain's rule of law, without the blessing of central authorities, has inflamed controversy. The Constitutional Court considers the referendum illegal because unlike countries such as Canada or the U.K., Spain's constitution simply does not allow for this type of vote.

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The vote on the bill is expected later Wednesday.

The leader of the main opposition party in Catalonia, Ciudadanos (Citizens) leader Ines Arrimadas, immediately announced that she would seek parliamentary support for a no-confidence vote against Puigdemont that would force new regional elections. From now on, bills are adopted directly by Catalonia's parliament and only on their first reading. Just 4.2 percent declined to pick a side ahead of the planned october 1 referendum.

The push from the wealthy northeastern region to hold an independence vote sets Spain - which is still reeling from jihadists attacks Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, and a nearby seaside resort last month that killed 16 people - on course for its deepest political crisis in decades.

Catalonia has been seeking independence from Spain for years.

The vote is not recognized by the Spanish government and most political parties at the national level.

The majority of the court's judges have been nominated by lawmakers from Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's conservative Popular Party.

Be very clear that you will not split up Spain, but you are breaking up Catalonia.