Po­lice in Cat­alo­nia hunt for hid­den bal­lot boxes in bid to foil ref­er­en­dum

Times of Oman - - WORLD -

MADRID: 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 recog­nise the out­come.

On Fri­day, the govern­ment passed mea­sures to tighten con­trol over the re­gion’s spend­ing to stop it 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.

Lost the plot

“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 or­gan­is­ing the ref- eren­dum, 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 con­fis­cat- ed 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 50 km 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-ahalf hours.

“They didn’t say what they were look­ing for,” Fabre­gas told Reuters, adding that he had not printed any vot­ing pa­pers.

Im­promptu crowd

The raid led to an im­promptu crowd gath­er­ing out­side the build­ing, with peo­ple singing the Cata­lan an­them and wav­ing slips of pa­per chant­ing ‘Where are the bal­lot pa­pers?’.

“When peo­ple saw that the streets had been cut off they started com­ing over with ban­ners, they handed out roses to the po­lice - the street turned into a party,” said Fabre­gas. For some sup­port­ers of the in­de­pen­dence move­ment, the search for the bal­lot boxes and vot­ing pa­pers has be­come a sym­bol of what they see as state re­pres­sion. Images of the Cata­lan po­lice force - the Mos­sos d’Esquadra - seiz­ing what for many are sym­bols of democ­racy would be highly in­flam­ma­tory, po­lice say.

- Reuters

RAIDS ON­GO­ING: Cata­lan re­gional po­lice of­fi­cers ‘Mos­sos’ stand guard in front of the re­gional govern­ment head­quar­ters in Barcelona, Spain, on Satur­day

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