Catalonia’s regional leader is pressing ahead with plans for an independence referendum on October 1, defying pressure from Madrid to abandon the illegal ballot.
Spanish authorities have moved to halt the vote with arrests of officials involved in organising it and raids that have seen the seizure of some 10 million voting slips.
But Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont is defiant.
“The referendum we have called will take place on October 1st… because we have contingency plans in place to ensure it will go ahead,” Puigdemont said on Thursday.
He said the main reason the referendum would go ahead is “because it is supported by the vast majority of the population” who are sick of the “arrogance and abuses” of Spain’s conservative People’s Party government.
A court ruling outlawed the vote after Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said it violated the 1978 constitution, which states the country is indivisible. Most opposition parties are also against the vote.
Spain’s main political parties say they are willing to talk to Catalan separatists, if they drop their referendum plans.
“We’re defending Catalans’ rights and the democracy of the institutions,” said Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria, urging pro-independence leaders “not to hide” behind demonstrators on the streets “and to respect the law and democracy”.
The police raids have heightened tensions between Catalonia and the central government which says protests in the region are organised by a small group and don’t represent the general feeling of the people.
Some anti-independence activists have demonstrated, too, as Spain moves increasingly towards a political crisis.
Polls show about 40 percent of Catalans support independence for the wealthy northeastern region and a majority want a referendum on the issue.