Catalan vote stalemate keeps Spain in suspense
Farmers on tractors make their feelings known in Barcelona
Scores of Catalan farmers on tractors rumbled into central Barcelona yesterday in a show of support for a potentially explosive vote on whether the prosperous region should break away from the rest of Spain and become Europe’s newest country.
With the independence referendum still planned for tomorrow despite efforts by the courts and police to stop it, the Spanish government and secession-minded authorities in the north-eastern Catalonia region remain on a collision course.
The tractors carried the Catalan pro-independence flag, called the estelada, to the office of the national government’s representative in Barcelona.
Similar tractor protests were being held across Catalonia.
With weeks of antagonism and tension coming to a head, neither side was showing signs of backing down from a confrontation that has pitched Spain into a political and constitutional crisis.
The Madrid-based Spanish government has maintained the ballot cannot and will not happen because it contravenes the constitution, which refers to “the indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation”.
“This secessionist process has been illegal from the start,” government spokesman Inigo Mendez de Vigo said.
“Since the referendum ... won’t have any political consequence, pursuing it won’t do anything but extend the damage, the harm and the disintegration that it is already doing.”
Acting on court orders, police have confiscated about 10 million ballot papers and some 1.3 million posters advertising the referendum, and have blocked the distribution of ballot boxes.
The Catalan regional government and local civic groups insist they are entitled to exercise their democratic rights and intend to do so regardless of the obstacles.
Catalan leaders, including regional president Carles Puigdemont, said on Thursday that senior European Union officials should step in and broker a political solution to the stalemate.
But European Commission vice president Frans Timmermans appeared to scotch that idea, saying yesterday that the constitution must be respected.
“That is the rule of law, you abide by the law and the constitution even if you don’t like it,” he said.
People with the estelada, or independence flags, shout slogans on top of parked tractors during a protest by farmers in Barcelona yesterday.