Cat­alo­nia cops hunt for hid­den bal­lot boxes

Gulf News - - Europe/ United Kingdom -

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.

“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 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 yes­ter­day.

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.

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