Cata­lan vote stale­mate keeps Spain in sus­pense

The Republican Herald - - WORLD - By BARRy HAT­TON ANd ARITZ PARRA

BARCELONA, Spain — Scores of Cata­lan farm­ers on trac­tors rum­bled into down­town Barcelona on Fri­day, 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 slated 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 big­gest 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 gov­ern­ment said.

“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 10 mil­lion bal­lot pa­pers and some 1.3 mil­lion posters ad­ver­tis­ing the ref­er­en­dum, and have blocked the dis­tri­bu­tion of bal­lot boxes. On Fri­day, the Cata­lan po­lice were or­dered to clear out all 2,315 polling sta­tions, most of them in schools, by 6 a.m. Sun­day to pre­vent the ref­er­en­dum from tak­ing place.

As­so­ci­Ated Press

A woman with the este­lada, or Cat­alo­nia in­de­pen­dence flags, shouts slo­gans on top of parked trac­tors dur­ing a protest by farm­ers Fri­day in Barcelona.

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