Spain’s Catalonia is gearing up for an independence referendum on Sunday despite attempts to hinder the process by the government in Madrid, which considers it illegal.
Catalans have staged numerous protests and occupied polling stations to secure their right to vote. Over six thousand ballot boxes will be used, and there are more than 2,300 polling stations across the region.
The referendum was not authorized by federal authorities and the country’s Constitutional Court ruled it illegal. Prior to the vote, Madrid launched a crackdown on Catalonia, local government buildings were raided and top-ranking Catalonian officials, including Junior Economy Minister Josep Maria Jové, were arrested over referendum documents.
The government also wanted to take direct control over the local police force in a bid to halt the upcoming vote. The action was denounced it as “intervention attempt” by Catalonia’s Interior Minister, Joaquim Forn, who also said that the local police refused to comply with the order.
The Spanish government forced Google to block an application which provided information to the citizens on where and how to vote. Madrid also ordered the shutdown of all polling stations and deployed thousands of its troops to the region.
On Saturday, the Civil Guard raided the Center of Telecommunications and Technologies of Information (CTTI) to switch off applications that could be used to count the results, according to Spanish newspaper El Mundo.
However, to make sure the vote happens locals staged numerous sit-ins at schools and other sites that are supposed to serve as polling stations.
“What you see here was not planned beforehand. We are all neighbors of this area of the city and we are defending the place where we want to vote on Sunday. If you turn around you will see more people, when the doors of this school open-we will just swap places in order to keep defending this voting place,” Juan Sebastian, one of the locals staying at a school, told RT.
“Due to the threat of the sealing of schools, people from the educational community have organized themselves, not only here, but all over Catalonia, to make sure we can vote freely on Sunday,” Miguel Angel Torrijos, a father of one of the school children, told RT’s Ruptly news video agency.
People across the region have been protesting the crackdown on the vote. Earlier this week, farmers staged a protest in Barcelona, flying Catalonian flags on their tractors and chanting “we will vote.”
On Thursday, Catalan firefighters unfurled a giant banner in front of the Museum of Catalan History in Barcelona, depicting a ballot box with the words “love democracy” written across it.
The Spanish government still says the referendum is illegal and vows that it will not allow this to happen.
“I insist: there will be no referendum on October 1st,” government spokesperson Inigo Mendez de Vigo said on Friday during a press conference following the weekly cabinet meeting.
Meanwhile, not everyone is happy over the upcoming referendum. On Saturday, the day before the vote, a protest was held in Barcelona to protest against the referendum.
Crowds gathered outside the Catalan government headquarters in Barcelona Thursday to protest against Sunday’s vote.
Activists held a mock referendum in the Spanish capital, Madrid, on Friday, giving residents the opportunity to “vote” on whether they want “Catalonia to remain part of Spain” and place their “ballots” into an improvised ballot box. Hundreds of anti-referendum activists took part.
As the division in Spanish society grows, Spain’s European partners are apparently not eager to intervene.
“I believe this is a Spanish problem in which [sic] we can do little. It’s a problem of respecting Spanish laws that Spaniards have to resolve,” Antonio Tajani, European Parliament President said answering journalists’ questions on whether any form of mediation could be offered.
Member of the European Parliament Stelios Kouloglou believes that the EU should intervene as the actions of the Spanish federal government are unreasonable, he told RT. Kouloglou will observe Sunday’s vote and has spoken with Catalan officials, who complained about “very brutal violations of the democratic rights” by Madrid.
“The EU should interfere not to take sides …but just to say that those measures taken by the government of Madrid are not acceptable,” Kouloglou said.
Spanish police occupy Catalan tech hub before banned vote
Spanish police have occupied the Catalan government’s communications hub on the eve of a banned independence referendum which Madrid is attempting to thwart, the regional authority said on Saturday. Tens of thousands of Catalans are expected to vote in a ballot that will have no legal status as it has been blocked by Spain’s Constitutional Court and Madrid has sent thousands of police to the northeastern region to stop it taking place. But Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont told Reuters on Friday that the referendum would go ahead regardless.
“Everything is prepared at the more than 2,000 voting points so they have ballot boxes and voting slips, and have everything people need to express their opinion,” Puigdemont said.
On Saturday a Catalan government spokesman said at least four police officers had entered the center in Barcelona which controls the regional government’s telecommunications and IT and were expected to stay there for two days. This followed an order by Catalonia’s High Court on Friday for police to prevent electronic voting taking place. The court also instructed Google to delete an application it said was being used to spread information on the vote.
Police and Spain’s interior ministry did not confirm the action. The head of the Catalan regional police has ordered officers to evacuate and close polling stations by 6 a.m. on Sunday, before the voting is due to open at 9 a.m. At a closing rally for the independence campaign in Barcelona on Friday, people formed the slogan “Referendum is democracy” in large white letters on a stage in front of a cheering crowd, many draped in the red-and-yellow Catalan flag. Other Catalans camped out in polling stations in order to defy court orders to close them.
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