Catalan referendum: Police ‘seal off’ polling stations

Police have sealed off 1,300 of 2,315 schools in Catalonia designated as polling stations for the region’s banned independence referendum, Spain’s central government says.

The move came as the Spanish authorities stepped up their attempts to stop Sunday’s referendum.

Police have now occupied the regional government’s telecommunications centre.

The planned ballot has been declared illegal by Spain’s Constitutional Court.

The authorities in Madrid have sent thousands of police to the region to stop it taking place. They are being assisted by the Catalan regional police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra.

They have been ordered to clear schools occupied by activists aiming to ensure the buildings can be used for voting.

Many of those inside the schools are parents and their children, who remained in the buildings after the end of lessons on Friday.

What are the arguments?

Catalonia, a wealthy region of 7.5 million people in north-eastern Spain, has its own language and culture.

It also has a high degree of autonomy, but is not recognised as a separate nation under the Spanish constitution.

Pressure for a vote on self-determination has grown over the past five years as austerity has hit the Spanish economy and people hard.

But Spanish unionists argue Catalonia already enjoys broad autonomy within Spain, along with other regions like the Basque Country and Galicia.

Will the vote go ahead?

“Of the 2,315 polling stations… 1,300 have been sealed off by the Mossos d’Esquadra,” said Enric Millo, the central government’s representative in Catalonia.

He added that 163 of these were being “peacefully” occupied by people who would be allowed to leave, although no-one will be allowed in.

Officers have also been seizing items such as ballot papers, while prosecutors have ordered the closure of websites linked to the vote and the arrest of officials organising the referendum.

But Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont told Reuters news agency that the referendum would go ahead.

“Everything is prepared at the more than 2,000 voting points so they have ballot boxes and voting slips, and have everything people need to express their opinion,” he said.

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