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Catalonia government makes clear to Madrid that it will disobey over Sunday vote

Regional premier vows to open schools as polling stations so as not to back down “a millimeter in terms of fundamental rights”

Despite measures being taken by the Spanish justice system and the authorities to prevent a planned illegal referendum on Catalan independence from taking place on Sunday, the regional premier, Carles Puigdemont, was determined on Thursday night that the poll would go ahead.

The plastic containers that the Catalan regional government plans to use as ballot boxes on Sunday.
The plastic containers that the Catalan regional government plans to use as ballot boxes on Sunday. EFE

At a meeting with representatives from the region’s education sector, the politician stated that schools would be opened on Sunday as polling stations, so as not to back down “a millimeter in terms of fundamental rights.” The regional police in Catalonia, the Mossos d’Esquadra, have been given orders from the public prosecutor to seal off education centers in order to prevent the vote from taking place.

He went on to say that there would be “a lot of difficulties” on Sunday, but added that: “For every difficulty, there are two solutions, and for every fear, three hopes.”

For every difficulty, there are two solutions, and for every fear, three hopes

Carles Puigdemont, Catalan regional premier,

The Catalan regional government is determined to hold a referendum vote on independence on Sunday, despite the Constitutional Court having suspended the poll and the fierce opposition of the central government in Madrid. Thousands of police and Civil Guard officers have been drafted in from all over the country in order to prevent the poll from taking place.

On Friday, representatives from the regional government held a press conference at which they presented the ballot boxes that will be used for the vote on Sunday. They are translucent plastic containers and carry the logo of the Catalan government. They will be sealed with orange zip ties. One of the challenges for the regional authorities has been how to secure such ballot boxes, given that they have not been granted access to the usual clear boxes used at regular elections, and have been precluded from contracting the services of a supplier.

Despite the pressure, political parties in the region and pro-independence organizations are due to hold a final rally from 8pm today to close the campaign. The event, which will take place in the Font Màgica (Magic Fountain) in the Montjuïc neighborhood, will aim to offer an image of unity and hammer home the message that the vote will take place on October 1. As well as Puigdemont, also in attendance will be the deputy premier Oriol Junqueras, and a number of other key pro-independence figures.

The regional government will today present its preparations for the referendum. It will do so in a private press center, managed by multimedia communications group MediaPro, which will charge journalists €10 for access.

The secretary of state for security and the Civil Guard are coordinating an operation to stop the vote

For its part, the central government of Popular Party (PP) Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy used a security council meeting with the regional government on Thursday to put on pressure for the vote to be canceled. After the meeting, the secretary of state for security, José Antonio Nieto, complained of the regional government’s refusal to suspend the referendum. Given this situation, he explained that the aim of the ministry, which is coordinating an operation in the region via Civil Guard Colonel Diego Pérez de los Cobos, would be for “the law to be observed” and that the vote would not go ahead on Sunday.

“We have repeated our total commitment so that the aim of defending the law is met, as well as the defense of the rule of law and the guarantee of peaceful coexistence,” he added. He went on to say that the authorities would act with “total determination” so that an act that has been declared illegal by the Constitutional Court is prevented from taking place.

The secretary of state for security also called for “no police authority” to be a “protagonist” on Sunday of any incident other than “guaranteeing that Barcelona or any other area has a day of festivities and celebration.” On Sunday, he said, “there can be celebration. Anyone can do so however they like, in some cases with a picnic. But this will not be done at the cost of breaking the law.

While we don’t reject what the judge has ordered, what is important is to safeguard the coexistence of citizens

Joaquim Forn, Catalan regional interior chief

The Interior Ministry believes that the National Police force and the Civil Guard will be forced to act to guarantee that voting centers will not open. The Mossos d’Esquadra have objected to instructions to ensure that schools, medical centers and other public locations are not used for voting stations on the basis that this could cause public order problems. The ministry, however, has interpreted this objection as a way for the regional force to ignore the instructions, which were issued by the Catalonia regional High Court (TSJC).

The Catalan regional interior chief, Joaquim Forn, who was also present at the security meeting, stated afterward that the vote would happen. “We will not stop the call to [vote in the] referendum,” he told reporters, adding that he was disappointed to see that the police had been put “in the middle of the debate.” With reference to the orders from the TSJC, and how the Mossos will react, he stated that “while we don’t reject nor avoid what the judge has ordered, we want to make clear that what is important is to safeguard the coexistence of citizens.”

Forn insisted that officers from the regional force would observe the orders from the judge, but that they would act with criteria of proportionality, opportuneness and coherence. His statements implicitly suggested that the Mossos would not close schools if they believed that doing so would lead to a serious public order issue. “Bigger problems than those that are trying to be avoided cannot be created,” he said.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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