The Latest: Protesters rally against Catalan independence
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — The Latest on Catalonia’s plans to hold a referendum Sunday on breaking away from Spain (all times local):
Protesters rallying against a referendum on Catalonia declaring independence from Spain have scaled windows of Barcelona’s town hall and attempted to tear down a banner calling for “more democracy.”
The sign, written in Catalan, had been placed there by the municipal government amid Spain’s intensifying crackdown to prevent the vote.
Regional separatist officials in Catalonia want to go ahead with Sunday’s referendum disregarding a Constitutional Court suspension. Spanish central authorities consider the vote illegal.
The demonstrators on Saturday evening who favor staying united with Spain tore the banner in front of cheering crowds. Other protesters also burnt an “estelada,” the unofficial Catalan flag that has become a symbol for independence supporters.
Ruben Satinya wasn’t sure he would vote in favor of independence for Catalonia in Sunday’s disputed referendum, but the Spanish government’s effort to prevent the poll from taking place has convinced him to vote in favor of a break with Spain.
He is spending the night at his child’s Congres-Indians school in Barcelona, hoping to be joined by many other activists before police are expected arrive at 6 a.m. Sunday to clear the school to keep it from being used as a voting station.
Satinya doesn’t expect police to forcibly take them out of the school if the crowd is large enough to make removals difficult.
He says “I am Catalan, but my fight is for social and civil rights, and that is what this about.”
He adds “I believe in the basic right of self-determination.”
A grassroots group that has organized parents to keep schools in Catalonia open so they can be used as polling places for Sunday’s independence vote says the referendum could be in jeopardy unless more balloting stations can open.
Open Schools spokesman Ramon Font said that as of 5 p.m. Saturday the group did not know how many schools were being occupied by activists, but expects it to be by Sunday morning many more than the number Catalan police reported.
Catalan police said earlier Saturday that 163 schools were being occupied.
Font told The Associated Press he hopes the number will increase to all 2,315 schools designated as polling stations, but says much depends on whether police use force to vacate and shut schools to prevent balloting.
He warns: “If the number of schools kept open does not rise, then the ability to exercise our right to self-determination will be in serious jeopardy. It will be very difficult to vote.”
Thousands of Catalans are marching in downtown Barcelona in defense of Spanish unity and against a disputed referendum on the region’s independence that separatist politicians want to hold Sunday.
Protesters wrapped in red and yellow regional and national colors displayed a giant Spanish flag over their heads, as a light rain started falling late Saturday afternoon.
They chanted “Don’t let them fool you, Catalonia is Spain” and called for regional president Carles Puigdemont to step down.
Puigdemont openly favors Catalonia’s breaking away from Spain.
The crowd headed toward the gothic palace that houses the headquarters of the Catalan government.
The main civic group behind Catalonia’s push for independence says a turnout of 1 million voters — less than a fifth of the electorate — would make the region’s secession referendum an “overwhelming success” given the Spanish government’s efforts to stop the vote.
Catalan National Assembly President Jordi Sanchez said Saturday that the government crackdown, which has included deploying extra police to close polling places, may inhibit turnout among the region’s 5.3 million eligible voters.
Catalan authorities had said they hoped Sunday’s referendum would generate higher turnout than the 2.3 million people who voted in a mock plebiscite in 2014. In that vote, more than 80 percent favored independence.
The Catalan government has pledged to declare independence from Spain within 48 hours of Sunday if the ‘yes’ vote wins no matter what the turnout is.
It’s not clear whether the Catalan government can distribute enough ballot boxes and ballots to its polling stations to carry out a credible vote on whether the northeastern region should declare independence from Spain.
Police in Catalonia have already confiscated 10 million paper ballots. On Saturday, they were sealing off many schools as possible to prevent them from being used as polling stations. Police have given activists and parents an ultimatum to leave the schools by 6 a.m. Sunday — three hours before the vote is to begin.
Enric Millo, the highest-ranking Spanish official in the region, says central authorities would tolerate informal balloting in the streets of Catalonia since that can’t be considered a valid electoral vote.
He says “they can always put a makeshift table in the street, with some buckets, and put papers in.”
But Millo adds “what Catalan authorities have promised, an effective referendum with legal basis and binding, is something that won’t happen.”
Thousands of people have rallied in a central Madrid plaza to protest the Catalan regional government’s push to hold a referendum on separating the region from Spain.
Spanish unity supporters packing Cibeles Plaza on Saturday morning shouted “Viva Espana,” and “Puigdemont To Jail!”
Catalan regional president Carles Puigdemont, who openly favors breaking away from Spain, is among those promoting the independence referendum scheduled for Sunday.
The anti-secession demonstration was the biggest in Madrid since the referendum was called earlier this year. Similar demonstrations were held in other Spanish towns and cities.
While Spanish flags were everywhere at the Madrid demonstration, some of the protesters donned the flag used during Spain’s long right-wing dictatorship of Gen. Francisco Franco. It features an eagle in the middle.
A top Spanish security official in Catalonia says police have sealed off more than half of the 2,315 polling stations designated for a disputed referendum on the region’s independence from Spain.
Enric Millo, the highest-ranking Spanish official in the northeastern region, said parents and students were found to be occupying 163 schools and holding activities when police were sealing off facilities on Saturday.
The regional police force has been ordered not to use force, but to vacate the schools by 6 a.m. on Sunday, ahead of the scheduled opening of polls at 9 a.m.
Millo says anyone remaining in schools after 6 a.m. will need to be removed in line with a judge’s orders, but predicts there won’t be significant problems.
He said: “I trust in the common sense of Catalans and that people will operate with prudence.”
Millo says the government is ready to ensure safety as significant numbers of people are expected to take their political views to the streets on Sunday.
The Spanish government’s appointee in Catalonia says the technology infrastructure for voting and counting ballots from the region’s disputed secession vote has been dismantled, making the referendum “absolutely impossible.”
Enric Millo, the highest-ranking Spanish central government official in the region, said Civil Guard agents acting on a judge’s order searched on Saturday the headquarters of CTTI, the Catalan regional center in charge of technology and communications.
Millo says the agents disabled software designed to connect more than 2,300 polling stations and to share results, as well as applications for voting online.
He ruled out any possibility of “an effective referendum, with legal guarantees and binding in the way that the Catalan regional government has promised.”
Catalan officials have vowed to go ahead with Sunday’s vote even though Spain’s Constitutional Court has put the referendum on hold.
Spain’s foreign minister says the Catalan regional government’s plan to hold an independence referendum is a mockery of democracy.
In an interview with the Associated Press on Saturday, Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis said: “What they are pushing is not democracy. It is a mockery of democracy, a travesty of democracy.”
Dastis accused the Catalan government of trying to promote an exclusionary system that runs counter to the goals and ideals the European Union is trying to advance.
He says voter referendums can’t be equated with democracy and asserts they actually are the “instrument of choice of dictators.”
The Spanish government maintains the referendum is unconstitutional and the country’s Constitutional Court suspended the vote so it could consider the matter. Catalan officials say they plan to hold the referendum anyway.
Catalan police are telling parents that they must vacate schools so officers can carry out orders to impede a referendum on Catalonia’s secession from Spain.
Quim Roy, a father of two daughters in Barcelona, says police officers told the few dozen parents and children at the Congres-Indians primary school they can’t display campaign materials in favor of the disputed referendum and must leave the premises by 6.00 a.m. Sunday.
Parents supporting the referendum have organized across the northeastern region to occupy schools throughout the weekend so they can be used as polling stations come Sunday morning.
The vote has been suspended by Spain’s Constitutional Court and police have received orders to stop ballots from being cast on Sunday. The regional government has pressed ahead and called on residents to vote.
Parents, children and activists in Catalonia are starting a day of activities after spending the night in schools designated as polling stations for Sunday’s vote on the region’s independence from Spain.
Yoga sessions, film screenings and picnics have been organized at some of the 2,315 voting facilities that referendum supporters are trying to keep police from shutting down.
The Spanish government considers the referendum illegal and the country’s Constitutional Court has suspended it, but regional separatists have vowed to go ahead with balloting.
The Catalan police force is under orders to empty the buildings by early Sunday. Officers have been directed to refrain from using violence to remove parents and students.
How the 17,000 regional officers respond to the vacate order is seen as key to the success or failure of the planned vote.
Across Europe, people are watching Catalonia’s independence referendum closely and nervously — but quietly.
A strong turnout that results in a majority vote for the “yes” side on Sunday could embolden other breakaway-minded regions. A secession trend on the continent would put new strains on the European Union.
Scotland, Belgium’s Flanders region and the Faroe Islands under Denmark’s control are some of the places with independence movements.
Despite tensions behind the scenes, most European leaders are shying away from taking a public stand on Catalonia.
They’re reluctant to back either the Catalan separatists who are bucking Spanish law to hold the referendum or Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s heavy-handed efforts to block it.
The EU’s silence has been especially conspicuous since Catalan officials appealed to the bloc directly to mediate the dispute.