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Catalan government opts for disobedience with referendum rally

Regional administration launches referendum campaign despite Constitutional Court suspension

Carles Puigdemont and Oriol Junqueras at the Tarraco Arena.
Carles Puigdemont and Oriol Junqueras at the Tarraco Arena. REUTERS

The regional government of Catalonia has chosen to disobey the law in order to hold its illegal independence referendum on October 1, despite warnings and bans from the lower courts, from the Constitutional Court and from the central government in Madrid.

On Thursday evening, regional leader Carles Puigdemont and his pro-independence allies officially launched the referendum campaign, despite the Constitutional Court having suspended the legislation fast-tracked through the regional parliament, which prompted several complaints from deputies.

Thursday evening’s rally at a bullring in Tarragona was a bid to give the impression that the referendum will go ahead, and came just hours after the regional government said it would no longer send monthly reports to Madrid detailing how it is spending public funds.

Puigdemont had already warned of his strategy of disobedience in a television interview on Wednesday evening with Catalan public broadcaster TV3, during which he said: “Haven’t they said we could not have a website, haven’t they said we could not pass a law, haven’t they said we could not sign a decree calling for a referendum to be held? And yet despite all that, we are doing it.”

Puigdemont repeated this theme at the rally on Thursday evening, even cracking a joke about all the legal action against them: “From lawsuit to lawsuit until the referendum.”

Addressing an audience of some 4,000 people, Puigdemont, accompanied by leading figures from the Junts pel Sí pro-independence coalition that runs Catalonia, said: “With less than 20 days from the referendum, does anybody sincerely believe that we will not vote?”

On Thursday, the government headed by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy reminded town councils throughout Catalonia that they would be breaking the law if they allowed municipal premises to be used as voting stations “or any other activity that helps the referendum take place.” Similarly, theaters and other venues in the northeastern region have been told they would be breaking the law if they allow their premises to be used to hold rallies or meetings.

Thursday evening’s rally passed off without incident, but sources at the central government’s delegation in Catalonia said this did not mean measures would not be taken against the management of the bullring, which belongs to the provincial administration of Tarragona.

The campaign in the run-up to the October 1 referendum has been accompanied by a series of initiatives by the regional government and pro-independence supporters to give the appearance of legality to the vote, which has seen posters plastered throughout the Barcelona Metro and on buses, despite the Catalan Supreme Court explicitly telling local authorities to take all measures to prevent this.

Official websites in Catalonia have continued to provide information about the referendum and to recruit volunteers to oversee the vote, despite a court ruling ordering them to be closed. Members of the regional government have used their Twitter accounts to provide links to newly created websites located on servers outside Spain.

It remains to be seen whether pro-independence mayors and local councils choose to disobey the law. So far, the majority have agreed to make a formal statement at the request of public prosecutors. Those who refuse to do so can be detained, although the Catalan regional Interior Minister, Joaquim Forn, said on Thursday he assumed that the regional police force would look for “peaceful” ways to do so.

On Friday, Rajoy is due to address a rally in Barcelona.

English version by Nick Lyne.

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