The Latest: Catalan leader rallies independence backers
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — The Latest on Catalonia’s plans to hold a referendum Sunday on breaking away from Spain (all times local):
Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont has closed an electoral rally campaigning for the secession from Spain, saying that Sunday’s vote will provide citizens in the northeastern region a right to be heard and recognized globally.
He spoke to cheering crowds of ‘yes’ supporters in Barcelona, saying the vote means Catalans will go forward “with the sovereignty and dignity that they tried to take away from us.”
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has fiercely opposed the vote. Puigdemont says Catalans have already defeated “an authoritarian government who didn’t want us to get to this point.”
Catalonia’s ruling separatist coalition has promised to declare independence in 48 hours if the ‘yes’ wins on Sunday. Spain’s Constitutional Court ordered the suspension of the referendum.
It remains unclear if police will close voting stations and citizens will be able to cast any ballots.
Regional police in northeastern Catalonia have received orders from superiors to clear out polling stations by 6 a.m. Sunday to prevent the Catalan government’s planned referendum on independence from Spain from taking place.
An internal memo sent Friday by force chief Major Josep Lluis Trapero that The Associated Press has seen says a police patrol is to visit every one of the 2,315 polling stations and will confiscate ballot boxes and electoral papers and shut down the station.
It said officers should not use instruments such as batons and only use force to accompany people out of the polling stations if necessary.
It said the measure was in line with a court order for the regional police and other security forces to ensure that the vote, which Spain says is illegal, does not take place.
How the 17,000 Catalan regional police respond to this order is regarded as key to the success or failure of the planned vote.
French President Emmanuel Macron is standing firmly behind the central government in Spain in its dispute with the Catalonia region over an independence vote.
Macron said at the end of a European Union summit Friday: “I respect a simple principle — We don’t have lessons to give, one member state to another.”
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy missed the event because of the domestic crisis surrounding the Catalan vote planned for Sunday.
Macron said: “I have confidence in the determination of Mariano Rajoy to defend the interest of all of Spain.”
A senior European Union official says people should respect the constitution and rule of law in their countries — comments that come ahead of Sunday’s planned referendum on independence in Spain’s Catalonia region.
European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans says Friday that the way any EU nation’s people organize themselves “should done in accordance with the constitution of that member state.”
He said: “That is the rule of law — you abide by the law and the constitution even if you don’t like it.”
Catalan politicians have pushed to hold the independence vote for the northeastern region against the wishes of the central government in Madrid and against the ruling of Spain’s Constitutional Court.
A Spanish conservative group has set up a large, mock ballot box in the center of Madrid and urged people to vote whether they want Catalonia to remain part of Spain.
The act in Madrid’s emblematic Puerta del Sol square on Friday came in criticism of Catalonia’s planned referendum on secession being held Sunday by the pro-independence Catalan government.
The protest was organized by the Make Yourself Heard group that has previously staged protests against abortion and gay marriage. Group president Ignacio Arsuaga said the independence of Catalonia was an issue that all Spaniards should be able to vote on, not just Catalans, adding that he favored unity.
The group said several thousand people posted votes, most they reckoned in favor of Catalonia remaining part of Spain.
Catalan farmers on scores of tractors have converged on Barcelona, driving slowly along the city’s broad boulevards in a show of support for Sunday’s planned referendum on the region’s independence.
The tractors carried the Catalan pro-independence flag, called the “estelada,” to the headquarters of the regional government. Similar tractor protests were held across Catalonia.
Friday’s protest was organized by Catalonia’s biggest farmers union, Unio de Pagesos, which said it aimed at fighting for “democracy and liberty.”
Spain’s central government has said the ballot is illegal and is using the courts and the police to try to stop it.
The tractors filled side streets around the regional government building.
Spain’s government cabinet spokesman says there will not be a referendum on Catalonia’s independence on Sunday as announced by the regional Catalan government.
Culture Minister Inigo Mendez de Vigo accuses the secessionist coalition ruling the northeastern region of bending the laws to go ahead with a vote regardless of warnings from courts and a suspension by the country’s Constitutional Court earlier this month.
Catalan authorities say they will declare independence within 48 hours after announcing the vote’s results if the yes wins. The Spanish government has fought the referendum with a myriad of legal actions that have been criticized by many in Catalonia.
“The government has a constitutional mandate to enforce the laws maintaining civic order,” Mendez de Vigo said on Friday during a regular weekly press briefing. “Nobody is above the laws and whoever violates them will face consequences.”
European Union officials have ruled out helping to mediate the clash between Spain’s government and Catalan officials over Catalonia’s upcoming independence referendum.
European Parliament President Antonio Tajani said at an EU summit in Estonia on Friday that the dispute is “a Spanish problem in which we can do little. It’s a problem of respecting Spanish laws that Spaniards have to resolve.”
Catalan officials, including the mayor of Barcelona, have asked the EU to mediate the tense standoff ahead of Sunday’s planned vote that Spanish authorities say is illegal.
Tajani says the EU is maintaining its support of Spain’s government because “on a legal level, Madrid is right.”
He says: “I think it’s important to talk on a political level after Monday.”
The EU has said Catalonia will be ejected from the bloc, if it declares independence.
Catalonia’s vice president says more than six out of ten voters are expected to cast ballots during the region’s independence referendum despite the Spanish government’s aggressive efforts to stop the vote.
Oriol Junqueras said Friday that Catalan citizens will be able to vote on Sunday “even if somebody takes voting stations by assault and tries to avoid something as natural as placing a voting slip in a ballot.”
Spain’s Constitution says that only the nation’s government can call a referendum on sovereignty. Police forces acting on judges’ orders have seized ballots and arrested regional officials in an unprecedented crackdown.
Junqueras says an internal poll showed that more than 60 percent of the 5.3 million eligible voters plan to cast ballots.
He displayed a prototype of the plastic ballot boxes planned for more than 2,300 voting stations.