Cata­lans pre­pare to defy Madrid in banned in­de­pen­dence vote

Stabroek News Sunday - - NEWS -

BARCELONA (Reuters) - Tens of thou­sands of Cata­lans are ex­pected to defy Spanish au­thor­i­ties and at­tempt to vote in a banned in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum to­day, rais­ing fears of un­rest in the wealthy north­east­ern re­gion.

The ref­er­en­dum, de­clared il­le­gal by Spain’s cen­tral govern­ment, has thrown the coun­try into its worst con­sti­tu­tional cri­sis in decades and raised fears of street vi­o­lence as a test of will be­tween Madrid and Barcelona plays out.

In a sign of how the planned vote has po­larised the coun­try, thou­sands of prounity demon­stra­tors gath­ered in Spain’s ma­jor cities, in­clud­ing Barcelona, to ex­press their fierce opposition to Cat­alo­nia’s at­tempt to break away.

In the re­gion it­self, hun­dreds of sup­port­ers of the ref­er­en­dum spent the day with their chil­dren play­ing foot­ball, board games and ping pong in schools, tra­di­tion­ally used as vot­ing sta­tions in Spain, to keep them open un­til vot­ing starts at 9 am (0700 GMT) to­day.

The govern­ment said just a small per­cent­age of schools were oc­cu­pied, how­ever, and that it had ver­i­fied that most of the more than 2,300 ear­marked for the vote were closed.

In those where they gath­ered, par­ents brought sleep­ing bags and pre­pared to bed down on gym mats.

“We don’t un­der­stand why we can’t ex­press in a peace­ful man­ner the sim­plest ex­pres­sion of democ­racy - a vote,” said Pablo Lar­ranaga, as he stood in a school in Barcelona sur­rounded by par­ents and small chil­dren.

“We don’t know what is go­ing to hap­pen to­mor­row. We are go­ing to try to vote in the only way we know, which is peace­fully.”

It is still un­clear whether the ref­er­en­dum will go ahead de­spite the re­gional govern­ment’s as­ser­tions that it will pro­ceed and Madrid’s in­sis­tence that it will block the move.

The bal­lot will have no le­gal sta­tus as it has been blocked by Spain’s Con­sti­tu­tional Court and Madrid for be­ing at odds with the 1978 con­sti­tu­tion.

A mi­nor­ity of around 40 per cent of Cata­lans sup­port in­de­pen­dence, polls show, al­though a ma­jor­ity want to hold a ref­er­en­dum on the is­sue. The re­gion of 7.5 mil­lion peo­ple has an econ­omy larger than that of Por­tu­gal.

How­ever much vot­ing takes place, a “yes” re­sult is likely, given that most of those who sup­port in­de­pen­dence are ex­pected to cast bal­lots while most of those against it are not.

Po­lice mon­i­tored schools ear­marked as polling sta­tions and oc­cu­pied the Cata­lan govern­ment’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions hub on Satur­day in an ef­fort to pre­vent the ref­er­en­dum from go­ing ahead.

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