Efforts by Madrid to stop a Catalonia independence vote, currently slated for October 1st, seem to be growing more hostile by the day. Earlier this week Spanish police seized control of Catalonia’s finances, seeking to ensure that separatist politicians could not spend further public funds on the referendum, and conducted raids across Catalonia to confiscate ballots and campaign materials from printing shops and delivery companies.
Now, as the New York Times notes this morning, Spanish police have detained 14 people during operations conducted yesterday which included the secretary general of economic affairs, Josep Maria Jové.
The Spanish police detained more than a dozen people in the region of Catalonia on Wednesday, drastically escalating tensions between the national government and Catalan separatists. The episode occurred less than two weeks before a highly contentious referendum on independence that the government in Madrid has vowed to block.
The police raided the offices of the Catalan regional government early Wednesday and arrested at least 14 people, including Josep Maria Jové, secretary general of economic affairs. The arrests were not expected, but hundreds of mayors and other officials in Catalonia had been warned that they would be indicted if they helped organize a referendum in violation of Spanish law.
Hundreds of supporters of Catalan independence immediately took to the streets of Barcelona to protest the arrests. Jordi Sanchez, the leader of one of the region’s biggest separatist associations, used Twitter to urge Catalans to “resist peacefully,” but also to “come out and defend our institutions.”
According to Reuters, the increasingly hostile crackdown by the Spanish police has led Catalan leaders to acknowledge for the first time today that plans to hold a referendum on independence are now in doubt following the arrest of senior regional officials and the seizure of campaign material by national police.
“It is obvious that we won’t be able to vote as we would have liked,” Oriol Junqueras, deputy head and economy minister of the regional government, told local television TV3. “They have altered the rules.”
It was the first time the promoters of the referendum had acknowledged their plans were in doubt, although Junqueras said he said he was convinced voters would still turn out in numbers.
It is not yet clear whether the police operation would be enough to prevent the vote overall or if it could instead bring fresh momentum to the secession campaign.
Polls show about 40 percent of Catalans support independence although a majority want a referendum on the issue.
Meanwhile, as a sign of the growing hostility and Madrid’s intentions to do all that is necessary to block a vote, Bloomberg notes that Spain has hired cruise liners specifically to mount a massive force of 16,000 police in a Catalan port.
Spain has discreetly hired ferries to be moored in the Port of Barcelona as temporary housing for possibly thousands of police specially deployed to keep order in rebel Catalonia and help suppress an illegal independence referendum.
The country’s interior ministry asked Catalan port authorities to provide a berth for one ship until Oct. 3 — two days after the planned vote — saying it was a matter of state, a spokeswoman for the port said by phone Wednesday. The vessel, known as “Rhapsody,” docked in the city about 9:30 a.m. Thursday, she said.
The aim is to amass more than 16,000 riot police and other security officers by the Oct. 1 referendum, El Correo newspaper reported on its website. That would exceed the number of Catalan police, the Mossos d’Esquadra, who serve both the Catalan and central governments.
Still, the Catalan government says it can hold the vote, and recently announced that it had stored about 6,000 ballot boxes in a secret location. “The referendum will be held and is already organized,” Mr. Romeva said. “Clearly the conditions in which it will be celebrated are not those that we wished for.”
Separatist leaders, however, have accused Mr. Rajoy of plunging Catalonia into a state of emergency rather than negotiating the terms of a referendum.
“The issue that is at stake today isn’t the independence — or not — of Catalonia,” Raül Romeva, Catalonia’s foreign affairs chief, told a group of foreign correspondents in Madrid on Wednesday, “but democracy in Spain and the European Union.”
Mr. Romeva said that Catalonia would hold the referendum as planned, and that Catalan lawmakers would act to honor the result within 48 hours — meaning they would declare independence unilaterally if people voted for it.
“There is no alternative, absolutely no alternative,” he said. “There are only two projects now on the table: a democratic project or repression.”
Now,why do we have a feeling that placing a riot police force of 16,000 in a Catalan port, ready to pounce at a moment’s notice, will not help reduce the local push for independence…
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