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