Cata­lans stay de­fi­ant as Spain ‘an­nuls’ ref­er­en­dum

Na­tional Guardia Civil use court or­der to shut down 29 elec­tronic vot­ing sys­tems

The Sunday Telegraph - - World news - By Han­nah Strange in Barcelona and James Bad­cock in Madrid

THE Span­ish gov­ern­ment claimed yes­ter­day to have “an­nulled” Cat­alo­nia’s banned in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum as it took final steps to block the break­away vote in Spain’s rich­est region.

In the lat­est show of force, po­lice shut down elec­tronic vot­ing sys­tems and sealed off hun­dreds of schools to pre­vent to­day’s vote, which has put Euro­pean Union lead­ers on edge at a time when the bloc is trying to em­pha­sise post-Brexit co­he­sion.

Cata­lan lead­ers re­mained de­fi­ant and promised the vote would go ahead de­spite of­fi­cers from the Guardia Civil us­ing a court or­der to shut down 29 elec­tronic ap­pli­ca­tions that could be used for vot­ing or to count the re­sults.

Íñigo Mén­dez de Vigo, the Span­ish gov­ern­ment spokesman hailed the move as an­other “blow to the or­gan­i­sa­tion of the il­le­gal ref­er­en­dum” in which over a mil­lion are still ex­pected to take part to­day. Span­ish au­thor­i­ties have sent thousands of its own po­lice to the region, as the local Cata­lan ser­vice re­fused to use force on vot­ers.

Mr Vigo yes­ter­day said the vote had ef­fec­tively been “an­nulled”, adding that ref­er­en­dum organisers also had no bal­lot pa­pers or vot­ing lists.

Madrid also sug­gested that a sit-in ini­tia­tive at schools, in­tended to pre­vent po­lice clos­ing them ahead of to­day’s poll, had largely failed.

Au­thor­i­ties said that of 1,300 Cata­lan schools vis­ited by po­lice, only 163 had been oc­cu­pied and the rest suc­cess­fully sealed off.

The Cata­lan gov­ern­ment de­nounced the moves as re­pres­sive, and in­sisted they could still op­er­ate the vote.

“Let’s see if they sus­tain these claims,” Joan Maria Pique, a Cata­lan spokesman, told The Sun­day Tele­graph.

“We have ev­ery­thing that is needed in a ref­er­en­dum – espe­cially the main thing: vot­ers,” he said.

Out­side the Cata­lan pres­i­den­tial palace, in front of a ban­ner declar­ing “We will vote!” Michael Guarin, 41, said there was nothing the Span­ish gov­ern­ment could do to pre­vent him cast­ing his bal­lot for in­de­pen­dence.

Cata­lans would defy the po­lice moves to come out in huge num­bers, he in­sisted. If they could not vote at the schools, “then we will vote out­side the schools,” he said.

But Mr Guarin con­fessed to feel­ing rat­tled by the pres­ence of such a large se­cu­rity de­ploy­ment, with thousands of Guardia Civil and Na­tional Po­lice sta­tioned on hulk­ing cruise lin­ers moored in Cata­lan ports.

The Cata­lans would vote peace­fully, he in­sisted. But as for the forces dis­patched by Madrid, he said: “I don’t know what their in­ten­tion is, with their rub­ber bul­lets, ar­moured cars and water can­nons, I don’t know what they will try to do.”

While he would go to the polls come what may, “some of my fam­ily are not going to vote, be­cause of fear”, he said, adding: “A lot of peo­ple who want in­de­pen­dence are not going to be able to go and vote, be­cause they are afraid.”

As Cat­alo­nia pre­pares for a day of vot­ing fraught with ten­sion, divi­sions in­voked by this bit­ter bat­tle over the ref­er­en­dum were on full dis­play.

As Mr Guarin spoke, hun­dreds of anti-in­de­pen­dence pro­test­ers de­scended on the pres­i­den­tial palace, wav­ing Span­ish flags and shout­ing “Viva Es­paña”.

Ar­gu­ments quickly broke out be­tween sup­port­ers and op­po­nents of the poll, as the two sides swapped ac­cu­sa­tions of fas­cism and ques­tions over

‘To­mor­row we will come out on to the street, and we will vote. It is some­thing we have to do’

Cata­lan iden­tity. “Fas­cist? Do you even know what fas­cism means?” railed Pe­dro, a 27-year-old wrapped in a Span­ish flag. “Fas­cism is what hap­pened here the other day,” he said, ac­cus­ing the Cata­lan gov­ern­ment of il­le­git­i­mately forc­ing through its ref­er­en­dum law.

“I am Span­ish and I am Cata­lan,” Pe­dro, who did not wish to give his last name, ex­plained. “My grand­par­ents lived un­der Franco and this is of­fen­sive. We are all free here.”

In Madrid, thousands chanted for “na­tional unity” out­side the city hall, one of dozens of protests for and against the vote across the country.

There, pro­test­ers had lit­tle sym­pa­thy for the Cata­lan cause. José, a re­tiree who pre­ferred not to give his full name, said that he would “send the army into Cat­alo­nia to­mor­row”.

Amid un­cer­tainty, one prom­i­nent leader of the move­ment ap­peared to be low­er­ing ex­pec­ta­tions for the vote. Jordi Sanchez, leader of pro-in­de­pen­dence group the Cata­lan Na­tional As­sem­bly, sug­gested that one mil­lion votes would be considered an “abun­dant suc­cess” – a fig­ure far lower than the 2.3mil­lion who cast bal­lots in the con­sul­ta­tion vote of 2014.

Back out­side the pres­i­den­tial palace, Mr Guarin said: “To­mor­row we will come out on to the street, and we will vote. It is some­thing we have to do.”

Show of force: Span­ish na­tional po­lice of­fi­cers stand guard, left, dur­ing a demon­stra­tion in Barcelona in favour of a uni­fied Spain, right

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