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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 September 2018

Catalonia pledges to hold referendum in defiance of Rajoy

Supporters of an independence referendum in Catalonia opposed by Madrid occupied would-be polling stations on Friday in a bid to ensure the vote goes ahead

Youngsters wave esteledas, or Catalonia independence flag, and shout slogans in front of giant screen at the end of the 'Yes' vote closing campaign in Barcelona, Spain, Friday, Sept. 29, 2017. AP Photo/Francisco Seco
Youngsters wave esteledas, or Catalonia independence flag, and shout slogans in front of giant screen at the end of the 'Yes' vote closing campaign in Barcelona, Spain, Friday, Sept. 29, 2017. AP Photo/Francisco Seco

Catalonia heads into a watershed moment in its modern history this weekend, and no one really knows how it’s going to play out.

Spanish government spokesman Inigo Mendez de Vigo said Friday that there’s no way the regional administration will pull off its plans to hold an illegal referendum on independence Sunday.

Meanwhile, Jordi Turull, the Catalan executive’s spokesman, said on Friday in Barcelona that almost 7,000 volunteers are ready to open 2,315 polling stations across the region of 7.5 million people.

Supporters of the referendum occupied would-be polling stations in a bid to ensure the vote goes ahead, as thousands gathered in Barcelona for the separatist camp's closing campaign.

“Today we’ve defeated an authoritarian state,” Catalonia’s regional president, Carles Puidemont, said at the closing rally of the secession campaign on Friday. “Each difficulty has made us stronger.”

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Catalans press ahead with independence referendum

Clash over Catalan vote heats up in Spain as police swoop in

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Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is deploying thousands of police to Catalonia to uphold public order ahead of a vote declared illegal by the Spanish constitutional court.

In one of the biggest crises to hit Spain since democracy was restored after the death of Franco in 1975, the referendum has pitched the wealthy northeastern region against central government and sown divisions among Catalans themselves.

Earlier Friday, scores of farmers backing secession drove tractors from the provinces into Barcelona to blockade Spanish government offices. Both sides projected their resolve.

“All polling stations will be in place - even if someone tries to stop it, citizens will still be able to vote,” Oriol Junqueras, Catalan economy vice president, said.

After Rajoy met with his cabinet in Madrid, his government repeated its pledge that the referendum wouldn’t happen.

“The government, exercising its constitutional functions, will enforce the law,” Mendez said at a news conference. “No one is above the law, and anyone who breaks it should face the consequences.”

Spain’s data protection agency warned that polling station workers face fines of as much as 300,000 euros for accessing and managing data for the electoral registry. The aviation authority said it would restrict airspace over Barcelona during the referendum weekend.

A magistrate at Catalonia’s High Court ordered Google Inc. to remove "On Votar 1-Oct" app from Google Play service, according to an email statement from Catalan supreme court. In a separate ruling, the magistrate ordered the Catalan technology agency to shut a chain of applications that potentially could be used for the vote.

Jorge Toledo, Spain’s deputy minister for the European Union, said in Tallinn, Estonia, on Friday that talks with Catalonia could start once the region is complying with the law.

More than 5.3 million of Catalan residents are eligible to take part in the vote, with voting stations open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Sunday.

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