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Stalemate over Catalan independence vote keeps Spain in suspense

Authorities in Catalonia aim to ensure that a disputed referendum on independence from Spain will take place peacefully on Sunday, despite a crackdown on the vote by the national government.

Sunday 1 October, 2017
People gather as they wait for the start of the closing meeting of the Catalan pro-independence groups and political parties, ahead of the October 1 referendum, in Barcelona yesterday.
People gather as they wait for the start of the closing meeting of the Catalan pro-independence groups and political parties, ahead of the October 1 referendum, in Barcelona yesterday. Foto:AFP.

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Scores of Catalans flooded into downtown Barcelona yesterday in a show of support for a potentially explosive vote on whether the prosperous region should break away from the rest of Spain.

The Spanish government and secession-minded authorities in the northeastern Catalonia region are on a collision course, with the independence referendum still slated for Sunday despite efforts by the courts and police to stop it. With weeks of antagonism and tension coming to a head, neither side was showing signs of backing down from a confrontation that has pitched Spain into a political and constitutional crisis.

Madrid has maintained the ballot cannot and will not happen because it contravenes the constitution, which refers to “the indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation.” Any vote on Catalan secession would have to be held across all of Spain, the government says.

“This secessionist process has been illegal from the start,” government spokesman Íñigo Méndez de Vigo said yesterday. “Since the referendum ... won’t have any political consequence, pursuing it won’t do anything.”

Acting on court orders, police have confiscated about 10 million ballot papers and some 1.3 million posters advertising the referendum, and have blocked the distribution of ballot boxes. Yesterday, the Catalan police were ordered to clear out all 2,315 polling stations, most of them in schools, by 6am Sunday to prevent the referendum from taking place. Yesterday, the Catalan government unveiled white plastic containers it said would be used as ballot boxes. More than 2,300 polling stations would be set up for 5.3 million voters, Catalan government spokesman Jordi Turull said.

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