MADRID - Spain’s Constitutional Court on Wednesday revoked a resolution by Catalonia’s parliament that declared the start of a secession process in the wealthy northeastern region.

The motion, passed last month, calls on Catalonia’s regional assembly to start drafting laws within 30 days to create a separate social security system and treasury, with a view to completing independence in 18 months. It also declares that the parliament of Catalonia is “sovereign” and not subject to decisions made by Spanish institutions. Conservative Prime Minister Rajoy immediately filed suit at the Constitutional Court, which temporarily suspended the resolution last month while it considered legal arguments. In a ruling shared by all 11 judges, the Court on Wednesday ruled the motion “violates constitutional norms” which “affirm the unity of the Spanish nation.”

Rajoy hailed the decision. “For the majority of Spaniards, who believe in Spain, in national sovereignty, this pleases us greatly,” he said. The ruling comes just two days before the official start of campaigning for general elections. The December 20 vote will see a stiff challenge to Rajoy’s Popular Party from two new parties on the left and right as well as from the main opposition Socialists.

The Popular Party is presenting itself as the guarantor of national unity and of Spain’s economic recovery, after the country in 2014 came out of five years of recession or zero-growth. The pro-independence camp won an absolute majority in Catalonia’s 135-seat regional assembly for the first time in local elections in September but got only 48 percent of the popular vote.

Former US national security advisor Berger dead (11c)

WASHINGTON (AFP): Former US national security advisor Sandy Berger, who aided president Bill Clinton during the Balkan wars, died Wednesday, according to his colleagues.

Berger, 70, “passed away early this morning, surrounded by his family,” according to a statement from the Albright Stonebridge Group, a consultancy firm he worked with.

Berger spent four years as the top national security official at the White House, between 1997 and 2001. He guided Clinton though the NATO bombing campaign in the former Yugoslavia, the Northern Ireland peace process and a host of other security challenges.

“Our country is stronger because of Sandy’s deep and abiding commitment to public service, and there are countless people whose lives he changed for the better. I am certainly one of them,” said former Clinton secretary of state Madeleine Albright. Out of office, Berger’s reputation was tarnished when it was revealed that he took classified documents related to Clinton’s presidency from the National Archives. But he remained an influential voice in Washington, including recently voicing his support for the nuclear deal with Iran.