Catalan leaders say referendum will go ahead, defying Madrid

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Catalonia will proceed with an independence referendum on Sunday in defiance of Madrid, according to the spokesperson for the Catalonian regional government.

Speaking at a press conference on September 29, Jordi Turull i Negre, councillor to the presidency and spokesperson for the Govern de la Generalitat de Catalunya, thanked Catalonians for their peaceful engagement in the run-up to the referendum and announced the details about Sunday’s vote.

“5,343,358 people are set to vote,” Turull said. “Everyone remain calm, we will be able to vote.”

Govern. Generalitat on Twitter

▶️ @jorditurull: “Hi ha cridats a votar 5.343.358 persones, hi haurà 2315 col·legis electorals a tot el territori” #1OCT

Earlier this week, the Spanish central government said that police will take control of polling centres to stop the vote. A central government official in Barcelona said that the vote would not go ahead.

But Catalan president Carles Puigdemont told the New York Times that the vote will proceed as planned on Sunday.

Early on September 20, Spain’s Civil Guard carried out a series of raids against the Catalan regional government. A junior minister from the Generalitat was arrested along with 13 others during raids on local government offices.

Crowds gathered in Barcelona throughout the day. Estimates said around 40,000 people protested the clampdown.

On September 28, the U.N. issued a statement calling the approach taken by the Spanish government “worrying”.

The measures “appear to violate fundamental individual rights, cutting off public information and the possibility of debate at a critical moment for Spain’s democracy,” said the statement.

“Regardless of the lawfulness of the referendum, the Spanish authorities have a responsibility to respect those rights that are essential to democratic societies,” it says.

Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy said the raids were necessary to protect the rule of law and that the referendum would undermine the sovereignty of other Spaniards.

A website set up by the pro-independence lobby says it is a “legally-binding legitimate independence referendum”. However, Spain’s constitutional court ruled on September 7 to temporarily suspend the vote.

Key context

  • Calls for complete Catalan independence have grown since the end of General Francisco Franco’s rule in 1977.
  • In 2010 a Constitutional Court in Madrid overruled part of a 2006 autonomy statute and declared that there was no basis for recognising Catalonia as a separate nation.
  • Earlier this month, the Catalan parliament approved legislation for an independence referendum to be held on October 1, 2017.
  • In July, the Spanish government filed a suit with its constitutional court in a bid to block the Catalan government from giving itself the authority to call the referendum.
  • A mass rally was held in Barcelona on September 11 to show support for the referendum.
  • After the Spanish government ruled that Catalonia couldn’t hold an independence referendum in November 2014, Catalonia held an unofficial one. Eighty per cent backed it despite a turnout of only 2.2 million people out of a potential 5.4 million.
  • Then in 2015, a coalition of separatist parties won regional elections. The Junts pel Si (Together for Yes) party with the support of a radical left-wing party, the CUP, won 48% of the vote.


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