Catalans defy Madrid and occupy polling stations ahead of referendum

01 October, 2017, 00:50 | Author: Rita Burton
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"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.

"It's evident that the government's actions have changed some conditions, but what it hasn't changed, in fact what I think has improved, is will of the people to vote", said Puigdemont in an interview on Thursday with Spanish digital media outlet, eldiario.com.

But Brussels has preferred to sit on the sidelines of what it views as an internal dispute in Spain.

The ballot will have no legal status as it has been blocked by Spain's Constitutional Court and Madrid for being at odds with the 1978 constitution.

An official government source said about 163 schools which have been earmarked as voting centres have been occupied by families.

It is still unclear whether the referendum will go ahead despite the regional government's assertions that it will proceed and Madrid's insistence that it will block the move. That appears to underscore the reality that several thousand police can't really "stop" this vote.

It has attempted to dismantle the infrastructure needed to conduct the referendum on independence.

The Catalonia independence referendum, deemed illegal by the Spanish constitution, is due to take place at the start of October.

Pro-independence campaigners have been forced to camp out in polling stations in a bid to avoid them being shut down by authorities.

Organisers urged voters to arrive at 5 a.m. (0300 GMT) at polling stations and to wait in line until the schools opened.

"What will not happen is that we'll be going with us and will deny our rights..."

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"Act in a peaceful way and do no respond to any provocation, from other citizens or from police". The regional police had been ordered by central Madrid to help prevent the vote, according to reports.

Catalonia in the northwest of Spain is home to 7.5million residents and the country's second city, Barcelona.

Catalan regional President Carles Puigdemont, who openly favors breaking away from Spain, is among those promoting the independence vote. The Spanish government has fought the measure and declared the vote illegitimate.

On Friday, a final rally was held in Barcelona.

The Spanish government source said it would be up to the police how they carried out orders to remove people from polling stations.

But Catalans seem more determined than ever to proceed with the vote, according to Gerry Hadden, a reporter in Barcelona.

On September 20, Spain's military police also raided Catalan government offices, during which at least 14 junior officials and associates were arrested and nearly 10 million ballot papers were seized.

Catalan authorities previously had appealed to the European Union for help, saying the Spanish government undermined their democratic values.

EU Parliament President Antonio Tajani said on Friday that the dispute is "a Spanish problem in which we can do little".

Dozens of similar protests calling for the nation's unity popped up in other Spanish cities in the first large grassroots response to the Catalan independence bid.

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