Spanish judges have ruled that a planned independence referendum in Catalonia was illegal, dealing a blow to the indebted region's drive for self-rule.
But the northeastern region vowed to push on with the vote, defying fierce resistance from the national government, which has called for unity as Spain crawls out of its economic crisis.
Under Spain's constitution, a region "cannot unilaterally call a referendum on self-determination to decide on its integration in Spain", according to a written summary of the ruling by the Constitutional Court.
It ruled "unconstitutional and null" a declaration by the Catalan regional parliament that claimed Catalonia had a sovereign right to hold a vote on its future.
The court upheld a challenge by Madrid to that declaration and said any "right to decide" by Catalans could only be exercised in accordance with Spain's 1978 constitution, which insists on the unity of Spain.
Leaders in Catalonia have called the referendum for November 9 to ask Catalans whether their region should be a separate, independent state.
Many Catalans have drawn a comparison with Scotland, whose leaders are holding a referendum in September on independence from Britain, a move authorised by London.
Spain's conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has argued that Catalonia cannot hold a referendum like Scotland because Spain, unlike Britain, has a written constitution that rules out such a move.
"No one can unilaterally deprive the entire Spanish people of the right to decide on their future," he told the national parliament, which is due to debate the referendum issue on April 8.
Tuesday's ruling poses a setback for Catalonian President Artur Mas, who has said he is determined to hold the vote legally.
But the Catalan government insisted soon after the ruling it would not derail the drive for a referendum.
The referendum is opposed by Spain's two largest national parties: the ruling conservative Popular Party and the main opposition Socialist Party.
Proud of their distinct language and culture and fed up after five years of stop-start recession, many in Catalonia want to redraw the map of Spain, saying they feel short-changed by the central government, which redistributes their taxes.