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Spaniards Divided Over Catalonian Independence Vote


People wave Spanish national flags as thousands packed the central Cibeles square to in Madrid, Spain, Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017.

Thousands of demonstrators have gathered in Barcelona to oppose Sunday's referendum on Catalonian independence from Spain.

Waving Spanish flags, the protesters filled the square in front of Barcelona's regional government buildings Saturday.

Madrid has declared the vote illegal, and authorities in Spain began sealing off polling stations and confiscating ballots. While the Spanish national government said there would be no Catalonian independence vote, Catalonia's regional government continued preparations for it.

Hundreds of people supporting the referendum camped out in schools in an attempt to keep them open for Sunday's vote.

Enric Millo, the highest-ranking Spanish security official in the northeastern region, said Saturday that police had already blockaded half of the more than 2,300 polling stations designated for the referendum vote.

He said Spanish authorities also had dismantled the technology Catalan officials planned on using for voting and counting ballots, which he said would make the referendum “absolutely impossible.”

The president of the Catalan National Assembly appealed directly to the “conscience” of police officers deployed to the polling stations while speaking to reporters Saturday.

"I am aware they have a job to do, that they have their orders and have to carry them out. We are aware of that. But we also know that they have feelings, conscience,” he said.

“So tomorrow, when they carry out their orders they will undoubtedly receive, I hope they keep in mind — during the situations they find themselves in — that these could be their children, their mothers or their nephews, members of their family who just want to be able to express themselves in freedom.”

A national police officer watches a person casts a symbolic 'No' vote during protest against the Catalonian referendum in Madrid, Spain, Sept. 29, 2017.
A national police officer watches a person casts a symbolic 'No' vote during protest against the Catalonian referendum in Madrid, Spain, Sept. 29, 2017.

Spanish Culture Minister Inigo Mendez de Vigo said Friday that the independence vote would violate Spanish law and that the government would not accept the results.

“We are open to dialogue within the framework of the law. As you would understand, nobody can ask us … to engage in dialogue outside the framework of the law. It's impossible,” he said. “No European political leader can even consider dealing with an issue that is not in [Spanish] government hands."

Catalan authorities said they would declare independence from Spain within 48 hours of the vote if residents there chose to secede.

On Friday, Catalan farmers rode tractors through the streets of Barcelona, driving slowly and waving pro-independence flags and banners. The tractors eventually stopped, converging on the regional government building.

At the same time, European Union officials said they would not mediate the dispute between Spain and Catalonia, calling it a matter of Spanish law.

“[It is] a Spanish problem in which we can do little. It's a problem of respecting Spanish laws that Spaniards have to resolve,” said European Parliament President Antonio Tajani.

European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans called on Europeans to respect the constitution and rule of law in their countries. He said people in the EU need to organize themselves “in accordance with the constitution of that member state.”

“That is the rule of law — you abide by the law and the constitution even if you don't like it,” he said.

Catalan authorities previously had appealed to the EU for help, saying the Spanish government undermined their democratic values.

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