Police have sealed off more than half of the 2,315 schools in Catalonia designated as polling stations for a banned independence referendum as tensions rise ahead of the controversial ballot.
Tens of thousands of Catalans are expected to vote in the ballot, which will have no legal status as it has been blocked by Spain’s constitutional court. Madrid has sent thousands of police to the north-eastern region to stop it taking place.
A Spanish government source said 163 schools designated as voting centres had been occupied by families as images of families including children in sleeping bags have emerged.
People supporting the referendum have camped out overnight in schools in an effort to prevent an order by the head of the Catalan regional police to evacuate and close polling stations by 6am on Sunday. Voting is due to begin at 9am.
Catalan police have been instructed to empty the buildings by Sunday morning, but not to use violence to remove the people occupying schools.
The police in the region issued an ultimatum to the separatists, parents and children who are occupying schools to leave by 6am on Sunday – a deadline designed to prevent the vote from taking place, since the polls are supposed to open three hours later.
Spain’s foreign minister, Alfonso Dastis, said on Saturday the Catalan government’s plan was anti-democratic and runs “counter to the goals and ideals the European Union” is trying to advance.
“What they are pushing is not democracy. It is a mockery of democracy, a travesty of democracy,” he added.
Emotions are running high as the vote nears. The conservative government of the prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, says any vote on Catalan secession would have to be held across all of Spain, not just in Catalonia.
The European Union said Catalonia would be forced out of the bloc and would have to reapply to join if it left Spain.
The success or failure of the referendum is dependent on the response of the 17,000 regional officers and whether they can clear all the polling centres.
Quim Roy, a father of two, said officers told the few dozen parents and children at the Congrés-Indians primary school in Barcelona on Saturday not to display any propaganda supporting the vote and that they must leave by 6am Sunday.
“We decided in a meeting that we would send the kids home. Calling them human shields is a huge lie, but I made my decision because there is fear. Who knows what will happen if the Guardia Civil comes,” Roy said.
“The only thing that is clear to me is that I won’t use violence,” he added. “If they tell me I can’t be in a public school to exercise my democratic rights, they will have to take me out of here. I won’t resist, but they will have to carry me out.”
The Catalonia president, Carles Puigdemont, said 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,” he said.
On Saturday a Catalan government spokesman said at least four police officers had entered the centre in Barcelona that 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 move.
At a closing rally for the independence campaign in Barcelona on Friday, people formed the slogan “Referendum is democracy” in large white letters in front of a cheering crowd, with many draped in the red and yellow Catalan flag.
NOTE : All photographs, news, editorials, opinions, information, data, others have been taken from the Internet ..aseanews.net | [email protected] |
For comments, Email to :
Jared Pitt | [email protected] | Contributor