The head of the Catalan administration has accused Spain's central government of imposing a "de facto" state of emergency in the region in order to prevent an independence referendum from taking place.
Catalonia's separatist leader Carles Puigdemont accused the Spanish government on Wednesday of displaying a "totalitarian attitude" as it seeks to derail the planned October 1 vote, which Madrid deems illegal.
Puigdemont said the central government's moves – including the arrest of Catalan officials – amounted to a "de facto suspension of Catalonia's self-rule and de facto imposition of a state of emergency."
But he vowed to press ahead with the referendum, calling on the people of Catalonia to "defend democracy" by turning out massively to vote.
His comments came just hours after Spanish police carried out morning raids at regional government offices in Barcelona, arresting several Catalan officials involved in preparations for the referendum.
Those detained included Josep Maria Jove, a top aide to Catalan vice-president Oriol Junqueras.
The reasons for his arrest were not immediately clear, but Spain's central government had warned that officials who help stage the referendum could face criminal charges.
'We will vote'
Shortly after Jove's arrest, several hundred protesters blocked the Gran Via, a Barcelona high street, near his office, chanting "Independence" and "We will vote".
Anna Sola, an unemployed 45-year-old, said she rushed to Jove's office after hearing of his arrest on the news and through text messages from friends.
"They are attacking our institutions, those that we voted for, just for simply doing what the people want, and without any respect," she said.
The police operation comes a day after 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.
Police scuffled with dozens of pro-secession protesters who gathered outside the Unipost office to try to block officers from entering the building.
'Fulfilling its obligation'
Madrid has taken several steps to prevent the Catalan referendum from going forward, including threatening to arrest mayors who facilitate the vote.
It says the country's constitution stipulates that a Spanish region does not have the right to call a referendum, a view upheld by the country's Constitutional Court.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy defended his government's actions, saying during a debate in parliament on Wednesday that it was "fulfilling its obligation".
"The rule of law works," he added.
A silent majority? The Catalans who say 'no' to independence
Opinion polls show that Catalonia's roughly 7.5 million residents are divided on independence. If the referendum passes, Catalan officials have said they will declare independence within days.
Catalonia, a wealthy region which accounts for about one-fifth of Spain's economic output, already has significant powers over matters such as education and healthcare.
But Spain's economic worries, coupled with a perception that Catalonia pays more in taxes than it receives in investments and transfers from Madrid, have helped push the cause of secession.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)
Date created : 2017-09-20