Catalan referendum: Spain battling to halt the vote

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A woman displays a flower on the windshield of a vehicle of Catalan police, known as Mossos d'Esquadra during a pro-referendum rally in Barcelona on September 24, 2017.Image copyright
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Catalonia’s police force has been caught up in the power struggle over Sunday’s vote

“It won’t happen,” insists Spain’s prime minister, and for the Catalan leaders trying to organise Sunday’s vote on seceding from Spain, his words are becoming harder and harder to contradict.

The nerve centre of the 1 October referendum – Catalonia’s economy department – has been seriously damaged by raids carried out by Spain’s military police force, the Civil Guard.

Fourteen junior officials and associates were arrested, but more importantly close to 10 million ballot papers were impounded, and websites informing Catalans about the election have been shut down.

The government in this north-eastern region of Spain admits its logistical effort to organise the referendum has been seriously disabled, as it defies a suspension of the vote by Spain’s constitutional court.

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Catalan police, like these on the left, have been ordered to accept the command of Spain’s Civil Guard (R)

Police at heart of struggle

Spain’s interior ministry has hired three ferries to accommodate the extra security contingent being sent to the region, and a power struggle has blown up over control of Catalonia’s regional police, the Mossos d’Esquadra.

Catalonia’s chief prosecutor has ordered the Mossos to accept the command of Spain’s Civil Guard to co-ordinate efforts to gather evidence of plans to hold an illegal referendum, and in effect stop it happening.

But the head of the Catalan force, Major Josep Lluís Trapero, is refusing to accept that order.

And Catalan President Carles Puigdemont has spoken out against “practices worthy of a totalitarian state” as Spain tries to smash the planned ballot.

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This ship, decorated bizarrely by cartoon character Tweetie Pie, is one of three chartered to house extra Spanish police

  • Madrid moves to take over Catalan police
  • Spain plays cat and mouse as Catalan vote looms

Will the vote happen?

Mr Puigdemont insists it will. And after millions of ballot papers were seized, activists took photocopiers into the streets over the weekend to print off new ones.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has appealed to the Catalan government in an official address “not to go ahead” with the vote. “(This) illegal plan of rupture has no place in a democratic state under the rule of law such as ours,” he said.

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Media captionWhy some Catalans want independence

However, the BBC has learned from a senior minister in the Spanish cabinet that the government still expects “a watered-down ballot” to take place. The government is worried about the possibility of violence if supporters of the referendum resist police efforts to block polling stations.

What if Spain cannot stop it?

Beyond measures already taken by the courts, Spain’s authorities still have further heavy weapons in their legal armoury if Mr Puigdemont and his associates refuse to back down.

Spain’s government-appointed chief public prosecutor, José Manuel Maza, suggested on Monday that the Catalan leader could be arrested and charged with civil disobedience, abuse of office and misuse of public funds.

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