ULTIMATUM TO STOP VOTING
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.