Independence vote: Police seize Catalan referendum ballot boxes

Catalan officials have told people to print their own ballots and vote at any open polling station as police confiscate ballot boxes and surround voting spots. Thousands of officers are in Catalonia to stop the vote.

Catalan police watching a polling station (Getty Images/AFP/C. Manso)

Spanish police and Civil Guard officers have begun seizing ballot boxes and voting papers, the country’s Interior Ministry said on Sunday. Spanish newspaper El Pais reported that confrontations between voters and police had occurred in Barcelona.

“These are the first ballot boxes and ballots seized by police in Barcelona. Officers are continuing their deployment in Catalonia,” the Interior Ministry said in a Twitter message that included a picture of four plastic ballot boxes and piles of ballots.

Ballot papers with the seal of the Catalan government and boxes had appeared at dozens of referendum sites in Catalonia overnight Sunday amid chants of “Votarem” (We will vote), despite earlier claims by the Spanish government that it had succeeded in stopping the “illegal” referendum.

DW’s Mariel Müller was on hand when the boxes arrived at one school.

Many supporters of Catalan independence spent the night in schools and other polling places in an effort to keep them open until voting begins Sunday at 9 a.m. (0700 UTC). A government official said parents and students were “peacefully” occupying 163 schools.

Thousands of people began to stand in line outside polling stations on Sunday morning from 5 a.m. local time.

Around the same time, 30 civil guard vans and trucks with police left Barcelona port. Police have been brought in from other regions of Spain to prevent the vote taking place. At one, a Barcelona school, organizers asked people to use passive resistance if police intervened, Reuters news agency reported.

Catalan government officials said Saturday morning that people could use ballots they print at home and vote at any open polling station if their designated booth was closed.


Read more: Catalan independence – what you need to know

Resolving a serious political battle

Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont called for “mediation” Saturday to resolve the “serious” political battle dividing his regional authority from the central government in Madrid.

“If the yes wins, if the no wins — in any scenario there must be mediation because things aren’t working,” he said in an interview with the Agence France-Presse news agency.

Puigdemont did no say directly who should mediate Spain’s internal feud but indicated that the European Union should fill the void.

“I think that from now it would be logical for the EU to actively monitor [the situation] and actively take an interest,” he said.  “If it doesn’t take an interest in what is happening in Catalonia when everyone is watching and taking an interest, there’s something wrong.”

But Brussels has preferred to sit on the sidelines of what it views as an internal dispute in Spain. The block has only warned Catalans that if they were to secede from Spain they would have to apply for EU membership, which Madrid would have authority to block.

Voting stations blocked

Meanwhile, the Spanish government said the majority of designated voting stations in Catalonia had been shut down to prevent the banned referendum from going ahead.

Watch video02:50

Catalan referendum — Stay or go?

Madrid, which has declared the referendum illegal, has vowed to block the poll. Thousands of extra police have been deployed to the northeastern region with orders to evacuate and shut down potential voting stations by 6 a.m. on Sunday. Police have been given orders to confiscate ballots and ballot boxes and to refrain from using force.

Spanish Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis called Catalonia’s plan to hold the independence referendum “a mockery of democracy.”

Organizers press ahead with vote

Despite government efforts to prevent the vote from taking place, Catalan leaders say it will go ahead as planned.

Puigdemont insisted that everything was set-up so that the referendum “takes place normally.” He said his supporters would cast ballots on Sunday as planned.

At a press conference Friday, Catalan Vice President Oriol Junqueras said that if “someone closes a polling station, there is an alternative for citizens to vote,” without giving further details.

Referendum organizers asked voters to turn up at 7 a.m. ahead of the polls opening at 9 a.m. “We must organize it so that there are long queues to give the image to the world that we are going to vote,” instructions sent to voters read.

“Act in a peaceful way and do not respond to any provocation, from other citizens or from police.”

Huge protests

Thousands of people gathered in central Madrid on Saturday to protest against the planned secession vote. Waving Spanish flags, they chanted “Viva Espana,” “Spanish unity” and “Catalonia is Spain.” Some of the protesters also called for pro-independence Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont to be put in jail.

DW journalist Peter Geoghegan was in Barcelona during a Spanish unity rally while DW’s Mariel Müller could not find anyone ready to vote “no” in the referendum.

Met plenty of anti independence supporters in Barcelona too. ‘Spain is a family. Catalonia is part of that family’. None said they’ll vote

Catalans get ready for disputed . I spoke to some about the reasons for their decision. (I couldn’t find a “No” voter)

The unity demonstration was the largest in the Spanish capital since the referendum was called earlier this year. Similar rallies also took place in other cities, including Malaga, Cordoba, Seville, Santander, Palma de Mallorca and Zaragoza.

The atmosphere was different in Catalonia’s regional capital Barcelona on Friday night, as huge crowds turned out to show their support for the independence campaign. Earlier in the day, farmers drove tractors through the center of the city, vowing to help protect polling stations from police.

A demonstration for Catalan independenceProtesters wave Catalan flags at an independence campaign rally in Barcelona

A large majority of Catalans back the idea of holding a legitimate referendum, but they are split over independence itself.

jm/sms (AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa)



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