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
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 edu- cation 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. 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'. 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 Con- stitutional 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. 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.