More than 700 mayors from across Catalonia gathered in Barcelona on Saturday to voice their support for a planned independence referendum that Madrid has declared illegal.
Earlier in the week, Spanish prosecutors summoned these mayors for questioning and warned them that if they helped with preparations for the vote — scheduled for Oct. 1 — they could be arrested and charged with civil disobedience, abuse of office and misuse of public funds.
“That’s a coercive measure, designed to intimidate us. But for now, we’re not changing our course,” Salvi Güell Bohigas, the pro-independence Mayor of Castello d’Empuries, told Euronews.
The mayors met with Catalonia’s regional head Carles Puigdemont in a show of defiance, while Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy called for a return to “rationality and legality” and promised to block the vote.
“The only thing I ask of (Catalan) mayors is that they comply with the law, and as such don’t participate in an illegal referendum,” Rajoy said.
More than three-quarters of Catalonia’s mayors — including Barcelona’s — say they will help set up polling stations. But police are now hunting for ballot boxes to stop the vote.
Polls show a minority of Catalans want independence, but a majority want a chance to vote on the issue.
Núria Marín i Martínez, Mayor of L’Hospitalet de Llobregat, does not support the referendum but she points out that the Catalan president has called on citizens to lobby their mayors so that they have ballot boxes out on Oct. 1.
“All this pressure on us is not fair,” she told Euronews.
Meeting in downtown Barcelona in front of hundreds of flag-waving pro-independence protesters, the mayors gave speeches in which they promised continued support for the referendum amid chants of “we will vote” and “independence.”
“If we don’t do anything, we’re lost. We must continue on this path and vote. If the “yes” wins, great, if not, we’re lost,” one Barcelona resident said, speaking in Catalan.
Barcelona mayor Ada Colau, who has reached an agreement with the Catalan regional government to allow voting in the city, criticised Madrid’s response to the crisis.
“It’s a disgrace that we have a government that is incapable of dialogue and instead dedicates itself to pursuing and intimidating mayors and the media,” she said.
So far, 740 of 948 municipal leaders have said they would allow municipal spaces to be used for the referendum, according to the Association of Municipalities for Independence (AMI).
Spanish police have raided several print shops and newspaper offices in recent days in a hunt for voting papers, ballot boxes and leaflets to be used for the referendum.
Catalonia’s top court even issued on Friday a warning to seven newspapers not to publish campaign notices for the referendum.
The Scottish government lent its support to the Catalan referendum. Cabinet Secretary for External Affairs Fiona Hyslop said Scotland’s 2014 referendum on self-rule, which was agreed to by both Westminster and Edinburgh, was a positive example of how to resolve such disputes.
“All peoples have the right to self-determination and to choose the form of government best suited to their needs, a principle which is enshrined in the UN Charter,” Hyslop said in a statement.
The “No” won in the Scottish independence referendum.