Cata­lan chal­lenge hits stum­bling blocks

May­ors of large cities will not sup­port the il­le­gal ref­er­en­dum and re­gional po­lice pass out or­ders to 're­move bal­lot boxes' on Oc­to­ber 1

Costa Blanca News (South Edition) - - Spanish News - Jparkes@cb­news.es

By James Parkes MON­DAY's na­tion­al­ist eu­pho­ria af­ter cel­e­brat­ing Cata­lan re­gion day sup­port­ing the il­le­gal in­de­pen­dence vote has been di­luted by lack of sup­port from sev­eral fronts within the re­gion through­out this week.

Mon­day's 'Di­ada' marches led by the pro-in­de­pen­dence re­gional gov­ern­ment be­came yet another rally to de­mand the ref­er­en­dum is held de­spite the Con­sti­tu­tional Court rul­ing brand­ing it il­le­gal and against the Span­ish con­sti­tu­tion.

Non-na­tion­al­ist par­ties were forced to hold other 'Di­ada' events and meet­ings in Barcelona and other cities.

The first blow to the na­tion­al­ists, how­ever, came on Mon­day when Barcelona may­oress Ada Co­lau con­tin­ued her vague ap­proach to the ref­er­en­dum first by say­ing she would only al­low the use of coun­cil premises for the vote 'if the re­gional gov­ern­ment can guar­an­tee its le­gal' which is im­pos­si­ble in the light of the court rul­ings - and then by say­ing she would do 'ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble' to sup­port the vote, pro­vid­ing it does not jeop­ar­dise civil ser­vants.

If Barcelona city - home to 1.6 mil­lion peo­ple, which rep­re­sents al­most 22%of the en­tire re­gional pop­u­la­tion (7.4 mil­lion) were to dis­al­low the bal­lot, its re­sult would be un­der con­sid­er­able doubt.

How­ever, yes­ter­day the lat­est in the pass-the-par­cel episode came as Ada Co­lau said the mat­ter would be placed in the hands of the Barcelona Ed­u­ca­tion Con­sor­tium, which will de­cide whether schools open as poll sta­tions.

The con­sor­tium board is shared be­tween the re­gional gov­ern­ment (60%) and the city coun­cil (40%). Not supringly, the re­gional gov­ern­ment has this week dis­missed the chair­man of the con­sor­tium and re­placed him di­rectly by the re­gional ed­u­ca­tion coun­cil­lor - who is openly in favour of the ref­er­en­dum.

Mean­while, other cities have clearly stated they will not back the ref­er­en­dum. These in­clude two of the other three pro­vin­cial cap­i­tals (Lérida with 139,000 res­i­dents and Tar­rag­ona with 131,000) and the sec­ond largest city in Cataluña, Hospi­talet de Llo­bre­gat (near Barcelona), which has 254,000 res­i­dents; nei­ther will Ter­rasa (215,000 res­i­dents).

The eight coun­cils that have so far re­fused (or prac­ti­cally, in the case of Barcelona) rep­re­sent 34% of the re­gional pop­u­la­tion who would be un­able to vote in the il­le­gal ref­er­en­dum.

Mean­while, the third pro­vin­cial cap­i­tal, Gerona, ruled by na­tion­al­ists, will al­low the use of its coun­cil fa­cil­i­ties to hold the ref­er­en­dum.

Along­side Gerona are 667 other mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties (mainly smaller towns), that al­to­gether rep­re­sent only 40% of the pop­u­la­tion.

So far 271 mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, which ac­count for the re­main­ing 26%of the pop­u­la­tion, have not an­nounced their stance in favour or against.

Po­lice blow A huge blow for the pro-ref­ere­dum camp came on Tues­day, when the re­gional po­lice (Mos­sos D'Esquadra) ma­jor, Josep Llúis Trap­ero, sent out a memo to all sta­tions or­der­ing of­fi­cers to 'in­ves­ti­gate and take ac­tion' to avoid the ref­er­en­dum.

Sr Trap­ero, who hit the lime­light over the Barcelona and Cam­brils ter­ror­ist at­tacks sev­eral weeks ago, has in­structed of­fi­cers to 'ful­fil' the or­ders given by the Cata­lan supreme pros­e­cu­tor on Tues­day re­gard­ing the sen­tence de­liv­ered by the Con­si­tu­tional Court last week.

This means of­fi­cers must con­fis­cate, if found (as the re­gional gov­ern­ment has not dis­closed their 'se­cret' where­abouts), the 6,000 bal­lot boxes the Cata­lan gov­ern­ment says it has al­ready pur­chased and the vot­ing slips printed for the bal­lot.

Ac­cord­ing to the memo, any­one found par­tic­i­pat­ing in the or­gan­i­sa­tion of the ref­er­en­dum will be ar­rested, ac­cused of 'dis­obe­di­ence, per­ver­sion of jus­tice and em­bez­zle­ment' (mis­ap­pro­pri­a­tion of pub­lic funds).

Ac­cord­ing to na­tional in­tel­li­gence of­fice CNI, the num­ber of bal­lot boxes pur­chased by the Cata­lan gov­ern­ment is nowhere near the fig­ures of 6,000 - which fa­cil­i­tates their 'hid­ing'.

Re­gional pres­i­dent Car­les Puigde­mont re­acted by say­ing it was 'un­for­tu­nate' to place such a bur­den on the Mos­sos, 'who should re­ally be fo­cussed on guar­an­tee­ing ev­ery­one's safety on vot­ing day'.

Le­gal ac­tion Madrid, mean­time, con­tin­ues with its plans to thwart the ref­er­en­dum.

School boards, civil ser­vants, politi­cians hold­ing pub­lic of­fices and may­ors have been of­fi­cially warned by the pub­lic pros­e­cu­tor's of­fice that their par­tic­i­pa­tion in or­gan­is­ing the vote would in­cur le­gal ac­tion.

While the re­gional gov­ern­ment has sent out let­ters in­form­ing those who would serve on elec­toral of­fice desks, sta­te­owned 'Correos' post of­fice work­ers have been warned not to de­liver them.

Also this week, the of­fi­cial Cata­lan ref­er­en­dum web­site (www.ref­er­en­dum.cat) was closed down by the Guardia Civil - again act­ing on the Con­sti­tu­tional Court rul­ing. How­ever, an al­ter­na­tive site was rapidly launched by the re­gional gov­ern­ment.

Among some of the fi­nal mea­sures the state pros­e­cu­tor will re­quest is the sus­pen­sion of elec­tric­ity sup­plies to all pub­lic schools that may be used as poll sta­tions on Oc­to­ber 1. This would im­pede com­puter and in­ter­net ac­cess to com­pile data or con­sult any kind of vot­ing cen­sus via in­ter­net - al­though the of­fi­cial vot­ers' cen­sus can­not be used any­way due to the Con­si­tu­tional Court rul­ing.

Last Fri­day, Guardia Civil of­fi­cers raided a print­ing busi­ness in Con­stantí near Tar­rag­ona to find out if they had been print­ing bal­lot pa­pers.

They were fol­low­ing gov­ern­ment in­struc­tions to pre­vent any prepa­ra­tions, and to seize any ma­te­ri­als that could be used in a ref­er­en­dum.

US com­pa­nies set to with­draw Jaime Malet, chair­man of the Amer­i­can Cham­ber of Com­merce in Spain (AmChamS­pain), warned of the con­cern US com­pa­nies have over the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion.

He ad­mit­ted that 'many US com­pa­nies would leave the re­gion to avoid an il­le­gal sit­u­a­tion', and even stated that some have spe­cial con­tin­gency plans to leave their Cata­lan of­fices within 24 hours if nec­es­sary.

Al­bert Peters of the Ger­man Cir­cle of En­trepreneurs said his mem­bers would not ac­cept any il­le­gal sit­u­a­tions ei­ther. "We be­lieve in the Cata­lan economy, but the most im­por­tant thing is re­spect to­wards le­gal­ity."

Mr Peters added that in any case talks must be held be­tween Cataluña and cen­tral gov­ern­ment to re­solve the sit­u­a­tion.

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