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.”