Police in Catalonia hunt for hidden ballot boxes in bid to foil referendum
Armed police in Spain have raided several print works and newspaper offices in Catalonia in recent days in a hunt for voting papers, ballot boxes and leaflets to be used in an October 1 independence referendum which Madrid vehemently opposes.
The searches are part of a concerted effort by the government to prevent the ballot from going ahead, amid fears that a vote to break away could trigger a political crisis even if Spain does not recognize the outcome, Reuters reported.
On Friday, the government passed measures to tighten control over the region’s spending to stop it from using state cash to pay for the ballot, and earlier this week Madrid summoned over 700 Catalan mayors for questioning over their support for the vote.
“They’ve lost the plot,” said Albert Batet, mayor of the town of Valls and one of those summoned for questioning. “They are persecuting mayors, the press, printers. They are stretching the limits of democracy.”
Catalonia’s President Carles Puigdemont, who faces criminal charges for organizing the referendum, says he has over 6,000 ballot boxes ready to deploy next month, but their whereabouts are a secret.
“Right now, we have no idea where they are,” said Toni Castejon, spokesman for the Catalan police force union.
A spokesman for the Catalan regional government declined to say where the ballot boxes were, or how the government was going to get them out of hiding to voting stations on October 1.
On Friday, police confiscated 100,000 campaign leaflets in a raid in Catalonia, the Interior Ministry said, without saying where. Catalonia’s top court issued a warning on Friday to seven newspapers, many of them online, not to publish campaign notices for the referendum, a court spokesman said on Saturday. At the offices of Catalan newspaper El Vallenc in Valls, some 50km west of Barcelona, six armed police knocked on the door last Saturday with a warrant to search the offices, said its editor, Francesc Fabregas. The search lasted five-and-a-half hours. “They didn’t say what they were looking for,” Fabregas said, adding that he had not printed any voting papers.