Cata­lan may­ors defy courts ahead of vote on self-rule


BARCELONA (Reuters) – More than 700 may­ors from across Cat­alo­nia gath­ered in Barcelona on Satur­day to con­firm their sup­port for a planned in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum that Madrid has de­clared il­le­gal.

The Cata­lan govern­ment plans to hold a ref­er­en­dum on self-rule for the wealthy north­east­ern re­gion on Oc­to­ber 1, de­spite strong op­po­si­tion from govern­ment which has chal­lenged the vote in the Con­sti­tu­tional Court.

The may­ors met with Cat­alo­nia’s re­gional head Car­les Puigde­mont in a show of de­fi­ance, fol­low­ing Span­ish prose­cu­tors warn­ing ear­lier last week that of­fi­cials en­gag­ing in any prepa­ra­tions for the vote could be charged with civil dis­obe­di­ence, abuse of of­fice and mis­use of public funds.

On Wed­nes­day, Span­ish prose­cu­tors sum­moned for ques­tion­ing more than 700 may­ors who had said they would al­low mu­nic­i­pal spa­ces to be used for vot­ing. If the may­ors do not re­spond to the or­der, po­lice should ar­rest them, the or­der said.

Meet­ing in down­town Barcelona in front of hun­dreds of flag-wav­ing pro-in­de­pen­dence protesters, the may­ors gave speeches in which they promised con­tin­ued sup­port for the ref­er­en­dum amid chants of “We will vote” and “In­de­pen­dence.”

Barcelona Mayor Ada Co­lau, who has reached an agree­ment with the Cata­lan re­gional govern­ment to al­low vot­ing in the city, crit­i­cized Madrid’s re­sponse to the cri­sis in a short speech in the city hall.

“It’s a dis­grace that we have a govern­ment that is in­ca­pable of di­a­logue and in­stead ded­i­cates it­self to pur­su­ing and in­tim­i­dat­ing may­ors and the me­dia,” Co­lau said.

So far, 740 of 948 mu­nic­i­pal lead­ers have said they would al­low mu­nic­i­pal spa­ces to be used for the ref­er­en­dum, ac­cord­ing to the As­so­ci­a­tion for Mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties for In­de­pen­dence.

Span­ish po­lice have raided sev­eral print shops and news­pa­per of­fices in re­cent days in a hunt for vot­ing pa­pers, bal­lot boxes and leaflets to be used for the ref­er­en­dum.

Cat­alo­nia’s top court on Fri­day is­sued a warn­ing to seven news­pa­pers not to pub­lish cam­paign no­tices for the ref­er­en­dum, a court spokesper­son said.

On Satur­day, Prime Min­is­ter Mar­i­ano Ra­joy called for a re­turn to “ra­tio­nal­ity and le­gal­ity” and promised to block the vote.

“The only thing I ask of [Cata­lan] may­ors is that they com­ply with the law, and as such don’t par­tic­i­pate in an il­le­gal ref­er­en­dum,” Ra­joy said.

Polls show a mi­nor­ity of Cata­lans want in­de­pen­dence, al­though a ma­jor­ity want the chance to vote on the is­sue.

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