Catalan officials detained in referendum crackdown

By on 21/09/2017
Vista exterior del Parlament de Catalunya Author: Xavier Vázquez

Spanish police have detained 14 Catalan officials and raided more than 20 regional ministries in a bid to stop a planned independence referendum.

Thousands of protesters took to the streets following the action on Wednesday, which Catalonia’s president Carles Puigdemont condemned as “anti-democratic” and “totalitarian”.

Catalonia’s regional government is defying an order from Spain’s Constitutional Court to stop the ballot, scheduled for 1 October, which the Madrid government has declared illegal.

Federal government takeover

Junior economy minister Josep Maria Jové was among the high-ranking Catalan officials detained following raids on regional offices including the economy, presidency, social affairs, telecoms and foreign affairs ministries, the BBC reported.

The moves came as Spain’s finance minister Cristóbal Montoro said that the central government would take control of a large part of Catalonia’s public finances.

Last Friday, Montoro gave Catalan vice-president Oriol Junqueras an ultimatum to call off the referendum or face having funding for essential services in the province taken over by Madrid, according to Reuters. A letter was sent to Junqueras on Tuesday telling him the deadline had passed.

Blocking the ballot

Acting on court orders, Spain’s Guardia Civil police have stepped up action to stop the referendum over recent days, raiding printers, newspaper offices and delivery services in a search for ballot boxes, campaign literature and election manuals.

They seized more than 45,000 envelopes containing leaflets informing voters about the referendum from a private delivery company in Terrassa, north-west of Barcelona, on Tuesday.

Hearings began the same day for hundreds of Catalan mayors, who are being required to appear before the state prosecutor after saying they would back the referendum.

National law trumps regional vote

Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy said on Wednesday that the operations were based on court rulings and intended to ensure the rule of law.

“There’s no democratic state in the world that would accept what these people are planning,” he said, urging the Catalan president to comply with the law and put his separatist challenge into “reverse gear”, the BBC reported.

After an emergency cabinet meeting, Puigdemont accused Madrid of imposing a state of emergency and a “de facto” suspension of the region’s autonomy.

“We condemn and reject the anti-democratic and totalitarian actions of the Spanish state,” he said.

The back story

The national government says the referendum is in breach of Spain’s 1978 constitution, which states that Spain is indivisible. Under Article 155 of the constitution, Madrid has the power to suspend a regional government’s authority to rule.

The Catalan region, which comprises four provinces and has as its capital Barcelona – the second biggest city in Spain – has its own language and has long contained a strong secessionist movement. A 2006 referendum approved a Statute of Autonomy giving the regional government new powers, but parts of this were annulled in 2010 following a court challenge by the conservative Popular Party. In 2015 Catalonia’s parliament approved a secession plan by 72 to 63, though this too was blocked by the Spanish Constitutional Court.

About Liz Heron

Liz Heron is a journalist based in London, who specialises in international news. She worked on daily newspapers for 16 years, reporting extensively on both general news and education. She was Education Editor of the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong and has contributed to a wide range of British media including The Independent, The Guardian and the BBC.

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