Catalan campaigners hand out a million referendum ballots

Thousands gather across Catalonia to show support for 1 October independence vote that Madrid has vowed to stop

Catalan independence campaigners have held rallies across the region, distributing 1m ballot papers a week before people are due to vote in a sovereignty referendum that the Spanish government has vowed to stop.

Thousands of people congregated in town squares around Catalonia on Sunday to show their support for the vote as tensions between the pro-independence regional government and the Spanish state continued to rise.

Speaking at a rally in Barcelona, the president of the independence group Òmnium Cultural, Jordi Cuixart, said: “Here are the packs of ballots that we ask you to hand out across Catalonia.”

(June 28, 2010) 

Spain’s constitutional court strikes down parts of a 2006 charter on Catalan autonomy that had originally increased the region’s fiscal and judicial powers and described it as a “nation”. The court rules that using the word “nation” has no legal value and also rejects the “preferential” use of Catalan over Spanish in municipal services. Almost two weeks later, hundreds of thousands protest on the streets of Barcelona, chanting “We are a nation! We decide!”

(September 11, 2012) 

At the height of Spain’s economic crisis, more than a million people protest in Barcelona on Catalonia’s national day, demanding independence in what will become a peaceful, annual show of strength.

(November 9, 2014) 

The pro-independence government of Artur Mas defies the Madrid government and Spain’s constitutional court by holding a symbolic vote on independence. Turnout is just 37%, but more than 80% of those who voted - 1.8 million people - vote in favour of Catalan sovereignty.

(June 9, 2017) 

Carles Puigdemont, who has replaced Mas as regional president, announces an independence referendum will be held on 1 October. Spain’s central government says it will block the referendum using all the legal and political means at its disposal.

(September 6, 2017) 

The Catalan parliament approves referendum legislation after a heated, 11-hour session that sees 52 opposition MPs walk out of the chamber in Barcelona in protest at the move. Spain’s constitutional court suspends the legislation the following day, but the Catalan government vows to press ahead with the vote.

(September 20, 2017) 

Police arrest 14 Catalan government officials suspected of organising the referendum and announce they have seized nearly 10 million ballots destined for the vote. Some 40,000 people protest against the police crackdown in Barcelona and Puigdemont accuses the Spanish government of effectively suspending regional autonomy and declaring a de facto state of emergency.

(October 1, 2017) 

Close to 900 people are injured as police attempt to stop the referendum from taking place. The Catalan government says 90% voted for independence on a turnout of 43%. 

(October 27, 2017) 

Spanish government takes control of Catalonia and dissolves its parliament after secessionist Catalan MPs voted to establish an independent republic. Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, fires regional president, Carles Puigdemont, and orders regional elections to be held on 21 December.

Carme Forcadell, the speaker of the regional parliament, told a Barcelona crowd: “I ask you to go out and vote! Vote for the future of Catalonia!”

The distribution of voting slips comes days after Spanish Guardia Civil officers raided regional government buildings, arrested 14 senior Catalan officials and seized almost 10m ballot papers.

The Spanish government has also drafted in thousands more police officers and tightened its control over the region’s funding, while the constitutional court has announced that 24 referendum organisers will be fined between €6,000 and €12,000 (£5,300-£10,600) a day until they abandon preparations for the vote.

The raids and arrests brought 40,000 people on to the streets of Barcelona in protest on Wednesday night. Although the demonstrations were largely peaceful, there were scuffles and two Guardia Civil vehicles were attacked. A chief prosecutor later asked the national court to consider investigating the demonstrators for sedition.

The Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, has repeatedly said that the 1 October referendum – which the central government insists is illegal and unconstitutional – will not take place, and the legislation underpinning the vote has already been suspended by Spain’s constitutional court.

However, the Catalan regional president, Carles Puigdemont, has refused to back down and has said the Spanish government is acting “beyond the limits of a respectable democracy”.

On Saturday, the Catalan government accused Madrid of trying to take control of the region’s police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra, after the Spanish interior ministry said it would coordinate the policing operations intended to prevent the referendum.

A spokesman for the ministry told the Associated Press that Catalonia’s chief prosecutor had informed the heads of the national police, the Guardia Civil and the Mossos that the ministry would oversee the operation “in light of what happened last week”.

The ministry denied suggestions that it was taking command of the Mossos, with an official telling AFP the move was “simply to agree on a means of coordination”.

But Joaquim Forn, the Catalan interior minister and the civilian head of the Mossos, called the measure unacceptable, adding: “We denounce the attempt by the state to intervene in the police forces of Catalonia.”

The Mossos tweeted a statement, which read: “We’ll continue working as we have until now. We will exercise our powers to guarantee security and public order and be at the service of citizens.”

A woman puts a flower on a Catalan police car during a pro-independence referendum rally in Barcelona
A woman puts a flower on a Catalan police car during a pro-independence referendum rally in Barcelona. Photograph: Josep Lago/AFP/Getty Images

Rajoy made another call for organisers to abandon their referendum over the weekend, saying: “It would be sensible, reasonable and democratic to stop and say there won’t be a referendum, which they know won’t happen.”

Pedro Sánchez, the leader of the Socialist party, also urged the Catalan government to stop the vote.

“The [regional] government’s headlong rush will only bring frustration and division,” he told La Vanguardia on Sunday. “I’m once again asking President Puigdemont to call off a vote that doesn’t possess the necessary democratic guarantees to constitute a referendum. Doing so would go a long way in the search for a political solution.”

The anti-austerity party Podemos called on Sánchez to join it in trying to remove Rajoy from office so that a referendum could be negotiated between the governments in Madrid and Barcelona.

“We need a government of democratic and plurinational unity that will organise a referendum in Catalonia, negotiate it and bring about a dialogue that gives a prominent role to the people, towns and nations that make up Spain,” the Podemos leader, Pablo Iglesias, told a meeting of local and national politicians in Zaragoza on Sunday.

The event was picketed by a crowd of far-right protesters and a bottle thrown at Violeta Barba, the speaker of the Aragon parliament.

Puigdemont has argued that the Spanish government’s response was proving massively counterproductive.

“A lot of people are angry about the democratic abuses that have been committed by the Spanish government,” he said on Friday.

“We’re seeing a reaction – and people taking to the streets with pots and pans – in areas where the independence movement isn’t supposed to exist.”

Polls suggest that while Catalans are almost evenly split over the issue of independence, the overwhelming majority of the region’s 7.5 million people would like the matter put to a vote. A survey for El País this week found that 82% are in favour of a legal and mutually agreed referendum.

If next Sunday’s poll goes ahead, Catalans will be asked: “Do you want Catalonia to be an independent country in the form of a republic?”


Sam Jones in Madrid

The GuardianTramp

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