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Former Catalan Government Presidency Councillor Francesc Homs (2nd R) and former Catalonia's regional President Artur Mas (2nd L) walk before appearing in Supreme Court in Madrid, Spain February 27, 2017. REUTERS/Juan Medina

(reuters_tickers)

MADRID (Reuters) - The former head of Spain's Catalonia region was barred from public office for two years on Monday for staging an informal referendum on independence, after a trial that has stoked tensions between separatist leaders and the central government.

Artur Mas - who was regional governor in 2014 when pro-independence campaigners held a symbolic referendum in breach of a legal order - was found guilty of contempt of court, Catalonia's Superior Court of Justice said in a ruling.

The case comes as separatist political parties in Catalonia, a wealthy region with its own language and distinct culture, are pushing to hold another vote on breaking away from Spain in September.

Spain's centre-right Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has repeatedly ruled out such a scenario, however, saying any regional vote on secession would be illegal. Spain's Constitutional Court has blocked such moves in the past.

(Reporting by Blanca Rodriguez, Writing by Sarah White, Editing by Paul Day)

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