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Tension in Catalonia Rise Ahead of Referendum | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Catalonia’s regional President Carles Puigdemont poses next to a pro-independence supporter with a Catalan Estelada flag showing the date for which the regional government called for a referendum on a split from Spain outside the Palau de la Generalitat, the regional government headquarters, in Barcelona, Spain, June 9, 2017. Reuters

London- Referendum on the secession of the province of Catalonia in northern Spain will begin soon, however, a state of tension started to prevail among the scene, following the verbal and media attack between the central government in Madrid rejecting the referendum on the one hand, and the Catalan government calling for separation from Spain on the other hand.

Both the Spanish government and the country’s constitutional court have declared the vote illegal. Over the past 10 days, the authorities have stepped up their efforts to stop the referendum, arresting 14 senior Catalan government officials, shutting down referendum websites, and seizing millions of ballot papers.

Tens of thousands of Catalan separatists have taken part in a final rally ahead of Sunday’s planned referendum on independence from Spain.

Spain’s central government in Madrid, which opposes the referendum, has sent thousands of police reinforcements to the Catalonian capital of Barcelona to stop people from voting.

The Infrastructure Ministry announced on Friday that the airspace over Barcelona would be closed to helicopters and light aircraft until Monday.

A court ordered police to prevent the use of public buildings “for the preparation and organization” of the referendum.

Catalonia, a wealthy region of 7.5 million people in north-eastern Spain has its own language and culture, and a high degree of autonomy, but is not recognized as a separate nation under the Spanish constitution.

Masses of referendum materials have been confiscated by police in recent weeks and officials involved in running the campaign face prosecution.

Madrid has repeatedly warned those who help stage a referendum which the courts have ruled unconstitutional that they face repercussions.

Spain’s education ministry said in a statement on Friday that school directors in Catalonia “were not exempt from liability” if they cooperated.

The Catalan government claimed that more than 7,200 people will staff 2,315 polling stations across the region to stage a vote on October 1 that has triggered the country’s worst territorial crisis since its return to democracy four decades ago.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of tractors, were driven into Barcelona and other towns to act as protective barriers around polling stations, and referendum activists occupied schools across Catalonia in a move to keep them open for the vote.

“Catalans will be able to vote,” said the region’s Vice-President, Oriol Junqueras. “Even if someone attacks a polling station, Catalans will still be able to vote.”

Junqueras gave no further details but called on people to behave responsibly and to ignore the “provocations of those who want to stop the vote”.

The independence issue is hugely divisive in Catalonia. While the overwhelming majority of Catalans want to have a referendum on sovereignty, many more of them favor remaining part of Spain rather than becoming independent.

The European Union has ruled out weighing in to mediate the dispute despite requests from Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and Mayor of Barcelona Ada Colau.