UL­TI­MA­TUM TO STOP VOT­ING

Wales On Sunday - - NEWS - JOSEPH WIL­SON AND CIARAN GILES news­desk@waleson­line.co.uk

PO­LICE in Cat­alo­nia last night is­sued an ul­ti­ma­tum to the sep­a­ratists, par­ents and chil­dren who are oc­cu­py­ing schools to be used as polling sta­tions for a dis­puted ref­er­en­dum on in­de­pen­dence from Spain to­day.

The po­lice dead­line of 6am to­day was designed to pre­vent the vote from tak­ing place.

Spain’s Con­sti­tu­tional Court sus­pended the in­de­pen­dence vote more than three weeks ago and the na­tional gov­ern­ment has called it il­le­gal. Po­lice have been or­dered to stop bal­lots from be­ing cast to­day and have been crack­ing down, con­fis­cat­ing bal­lots and posters.

Cat­alo­nia’s de­fi­ant re­gional gov­ern­ment is press­ing ahead de­spite the ban and the po­lice crack­down, urg­ing the region’s 5.3 mil­lion vot­ers to make their voices heard.

Spain’s for­eign min­is­ter said yes­ter­day the Cata­lan gov­ern­ment’s plan is anti-demo­cratic and runs “counter to the goals and ideals of the Euro­pean Union”.

“What they are push­ing is a mock­ery of democ­racy, a trav­esty of democ­racy,” Min­is­ter Al­fonso Dastis told the As­so­ci­ated Press.

Emo­tions are run­ning high as the vote nears.

Prime Min­is­ter Mar­i­ano Ra­joy’s con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment has said any vote on Cata­lan se­ces­sion would have to be held across all of Spain, not just in Cat­alo­nia. The EU said Cat­alo­nia would be forced out of the bloc and have to reap­ply to join if it leaves Spain, an EU mem­ber.

Par­ents sup­port­ing the ref­er­en­dum are camp­ing out over the week­end at schools that are among the 2,315 des­ig­nated vot­ing fa­cil­i­ties, to stop po­lice shut­ting them down.

A top Span­ish se­cu­rity of­fi­cial in Cat­alo­nia said of­fi­cers have al­ready sealed off more than half of the polling sta­tions and dis­abled soft­ware designed for the ref­er­en­dum.

En­ric Millo, the high­est-rank­ing Span­ish of­fi­cial in the north-eastern region, said par­ents and stu­dents were found to be oc­cu­py­ing 163 schools when po­lice were seal­ing off fa­cil­i­ties yes­ter­day.

The re­gional po­lice force has been or­dered not to use force but to va­cate the schools three hours be­fore the sched­uled open­ing of polls at 9am.

Mr Millo said: “I trust in the com­mon sense of Cata­lans and that peo­ple will op­er­ate with pru­dence.”

Quim Roy, a fa­ther of two daugh­ters, said po­lice told the few dozen par­ents and chil­dren at the Con­gresIn­di­ans pri­mary school in Barcelona yes­ter­day morn­ing about the dead­line and warned them not to dis­play any pro-in­de­pen­dence material.

He said. “If they tell me I can’t be in a public school to ex­er­cise my demo­cratic rights they will have to take me out of here. I won’t re­sist but they will have to carry me out.”

Organisers have set up a range of ac­tiv­i­ties in the schools to keep spir­its high, as the his­toric con­fronta­tion with Spain’s cen­tral gov­ern­ment un­folds, in­clud­ing yoga ses­sions, games, film screen­ings and pic­nics.

But Mr Roy said many par­ents de­cided to send their chil­dren home last night out of con­cerns for their safety.

“We de­cided in a meet­ing that we would send the kids home. Who knows what will hap­pen if the Guardia Civil comes?” he said, re­fer­ring to the Span­ish na­tional po­lice force.

He hopes at least a few dozen par­ents will hold a vigil to keep the school oc­cu­pied and make it much more dif­fi­cult for the au­thor­i­ties.

How Cat­alo­nia’s 17,000 re­gional of­fi­cers re­spond to their or­ders – and whether they can clear all the polling sta­tions – could be key to the suc­cess or fail­ure of the ref­er­en­dum.

It is not clear whether the Cata­lan gov­ern­ment can dis­trib­ute enough bal­lot boxes and pa­pers to carry out a cred­i­ble test of re­gional sen­ti­ment. Po­lice have al­ready con­fis­cated 10m vot­ing slips in the last few days.

Mr Roy said there were no bal­lot boxes or pa­pers at Con­gres-In­di­ans pri­mary school yet.

“They will ap­pear,” he said with a shrug.

In Madrid, thousands of peo­ple ral­lied in a cen­tral plaza on Satur­day to protest over the Cata­lan in­de­pen­dence vote, an­gry that it could di­vide Spain. Some shouted “Long live Spain!” and “Puigde­mont to jail!”

Cata­lan re­gional Pres­i­dent Car­les Puigde­mont, who openly favours break­ing away from Spain, is among those pro­mot­ing the in­de­pen­dence vote.

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