Farmers drive for Catalonia
Tractors make way through Barcelona
Scores of Catalan farmers on tractors rumbled into central Barcelona driving down the city’s broad boulevards 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.
The Spanish government and secession-minded authorities in the northeastern Catalonia region were on a collision course, with the independence referendum still planned for Sunday despite efforts by the courts and police to stop it.
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. The region’s biggovernment gest farmers’ union said the demonstrations were part of their fight for “democracy and liberty”.
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”.
Any vote on Catalan secession would have to be held across all of Spain, the says. “This secessionist process has been illegal from the start,” government spokesman Inigo Mendez de Vigo said Friday.
“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 10million ballot papers and some 1.3million 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.
Their grievances include what they say is Madrid’s ignoring of the region’s demands for a greater degree of fiscal powers.
With Barcelona as its regional capital, Catalonia contributes a fifth of Spain’s economy. On Friday, the Catalan government unveiled white plastic containers it said would be used as ballot boxes. A ban imposed by central government on international flights servicing airports in Iraq’s Kurdish region has gone into effect.
The ban has so far been the most significant escalation amid heightened tensions, largely marked by threats from Baghdad and neighbouring countries, following the controversial referendum on support for independence held by Iraq’s Kurds on Monday.
Hundreds of passengers lined up in the hours before an Iraqi government order that international airlines halt all flights in and out of the cities of Irbil and Sulaimaniyah in Kurdish territory kicked in.
The volume of passengers was higher than usual but no additional flights were added to ac-