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Catalan separatists call street protests over referendum ruling

Constitutional Court’s suspension of the vote branded “an attack on democracy”

Protestors bear a sign calling for disobedience in Barcelona on Monday.
Protestors bear a sign calling for disobedience in Barcelona on Monday.

Just hours after the Constitutional Court accepted the government’s appeal of the Catalan referendum on self-rule, the northeastern Spanish region registered its first protests.

Around 300 people congregated in front of the government delegation in Barcelona to express support for the plebiscite, which is scheduled for November 9, and to condemn Madrid’s attempt to get it ruled illegal by a top Spanish court.

This early protest was the beginning of a series of region-wide demonstrations planned for Tuesday by a pro-independence group called National Catalan Assembly (ANC).

Monday’s marchers were escorted by riot police to the office of the Spanish government representative in Catalonia, where they displayed unofficial flags known as estelades and laid out signs on the ground that read: “Disobey in the name of the referendum, in the name of independence.”

David Fernández, a deputy for Candidatura de Unidad Popular (CUP), the march organizers, said that the Constitutional Court’s decision to suspend the Catalan referendum until it rules on the appeal is the biggest attack on democracy since the end of Franco’s dictatorship in the late 1970s.

Meanwhile, the ACN was getting ready to act even before the court announced the suspension. “If the court suspends the referendum this afternoon, tomorrow at 7pm we all go to our city halls,” tweeted Carme Forcadell, the association president.

The ACN, which is behind the massive pro-independence demonstrations held on Catalonia Day in the last three years, also talked about a “lack of democracy” and sent out the message that the sovereignty drive will continue.

The protests have the backing of leftist parties such as Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC), Iniciativa per Catalunya and CUP.

But the ruling bloc of Convergència i Unió, whose leader Artur Mas has been the main driver of the independence movement, declined to say whether it was supporting these acts of protest.

The Popular Party’s appeal of the Catalan referendum came as no surprise, however. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy had warned that the government considers it illegal because it deprives all Spaniards of the chance to vote on a potentially nation-changing issue.

The main opposition Socialist Party also opposes the referendum and instead suggests reforming the Constitution to award greater powers to the region through a federal state model.