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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 September 2018

Spanish police arrest Catalan official in referendum row

Regional government offices were also raided on Wednesday, according to sources

People hold placards reading "Democracy" as they protest after the arrest of a Catalan official during a search by Spain's Guardia Civil police.
People hold placards reading "Democracy" as they protest after the arrest of a Catalan official during a search by Spain's Guardia Civil police.

Spanish police arrested a top Catalan official and raided regional government offices on Wednesday, as the crackdown intensifies on preparations for an unauthorised referendum on independence.

Josep Maria Jove, Catalonia’s secretary general of economic affairs and number two to the region's vice president Oriol Junqueras, was detained as Spanish police entered the offices of the regional department of economy, sources within the Catalan government said.

Other Catalan government premises, including those of the interior, foreign affairs, welfare, telecommunications and tax departments, were also searched, according to sources cited by Reuters.

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The police operation comes amid rising tensions with Madrid, as Catalan leaders vow to press ahead with an independence referendum on October 1 despite Madrid's ban and a court ruling deeming it illegal.

On Tuesday, officers seized a trove of documents related to the independence referendum from the offices of Unipost, a private delivery company, in Terrasa, a city near Barcelona.

Police said they confiscated over 45,000 notifications which were about to be sent to Catalans selected to staff polling stations for the vote, representing 80 percent of the numbers necessary to ensure the stations were adequately staffed.

The reasons for Mr Jove’s arrest were not immediately clear, but Spain's central government had warned that officials who help stage the referendum could face criminal charges.

According to El Pais newspaper, 14 people in total have been arrested.

The news of the arrest has sparked protests in Barcelona, with several hundred protesters blocked the Gran Via high street, near Mr Jove's office, chanting "Independence" and "We will vote", AFP reported.

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