The Latest: Spain's PM warns Catalan officials to drop vote
Sep. 20, 2017
MADRID (AP) — The Latest on independence efforts in Spain's Catalonia region (all times local):
Spain's prime minister is warning Catalan leaders of "greater harm" if they don't drop plans for an independence referendum that national authorities consider illegal.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said in a televised statement on Wednesday night that holding the Oct. 1 vote in violation of the Spanish Constitution is a "totalitarian act."
Rajoy said. "Disobedience of the law by a part of the political power is the opposite of democracy."
His remarks came as thousands of people remained in the streets of Catalonia's capital, Barcelona, to protest the government's intensifying efforts to stop the referendum.
Police arrested a dozen regional officials and seized 10 million ballot papers on Wednesday.
Addressing Catalan officials, the prime minister said: "If you care about the tranquility of most Catalans, give up this escalation of radicalism and disobedience."
He warned: "You are on time to avoid a greater harm."
Around 500 people are marching in central Madrid to support the Catalonia region's bid to hold a referendum on independence from Spain and criticizing the government for launching a crackdown to stop the vote.
The protest in Madrid's Sol Square mirrored those in Barcelona and other Catalan cities that brought thousands to the streets on Wednesday following police raids and the first arrests so far of regional officials.
Spain's Constitutional Court has suspended the vote as it assesses its legality.
Police watched protesters, including representatives of left-wing and nationalist parties, as they chanted slogans against the conservative government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.
Police also disbanded a handful of right-wing protesters that showed up with Spanish flags to call for the country's unity.
Barcelona Football Club says it condemns anyone trying to halt Catalonia's plan to hold a secession referendum next month.
The world-famous soccer club issued a statement Wednesday after Spanish authorities intensified a crackdown on the region's preparations for an Oct. 1 vote that Spain says is illegal.
Regional authorities have vowed to go ahead with the vote despite the arrests on Wednesday of at least 12 regional officials and government workers.
In the statement, Barcelona says it "condemns any act that may impede the free exercise of these rights."
The club also says it "will continue to support the will of the majority of Catalan people, and will do so in a civil, peaceful, and exemplary way."
Spain's Interior Ministry says police have seized nearly 10 million ballot papers that Catalan regional authorities planned to use in the Oct. 1 independence referendum, which Spain says is illegal.
A ministry statement said police also confiscated polling station signs and documents for voting officials in a raid Wednesday on a warehouse in a small town outside Barcelona.
The raid came as part of an ongoing police and judicial operation by Spanish authorities to try to halt the referendum called by the pro-independence Catalan government.
Catalonia has about 5.5 million eligible voters. Polls consistently show the region's inhabitants favor a referendum but are roughly evenly divided over independence from Spain.
Catalan pro-independence supporters have scuffled with Spanish Civil Guard officers escorting a government official arrested as part of a crackdown by national authorities on Catalonia's plans to hold a secession referendum.
The protesters tried to block the officers as they took Xavier Puig away from the headquarters of the region's department of external affairs in downtown Barcelona. Puig, the IT manager in the department, was one of at least 12 officials arrested Wednesday in police raids.
The protesters tried to block a police vehicle and some scuffles ensued. There were no reports of arrests or injuries.
Several hundred people are protesting the arrests and shouting pro-independence slogans in different parts of Barcelona and other Catalan towns.
The National Catalan Assembly civic group — the driving force behind the secession push — is calling on residents to rally peacefully on the city's Las Ramblas boulevard.
Spain's Interior Ministry says time off and vacation will be suspended for Civil Guard and National Police officers assigned to ensure that the Constitutional Court's halting of Catalonia's planned independence referendum is heeded.
A ministry statement said the measure will run initially from Wednesday until Oct. 5 — four days after the planned referendum, which Spain says is illegal and won't be allowed.
The ministry said the measure would apply to those officers stationed in the northeastern region and those to be deployed there. It gave no details on the number of people involved.
The leader of Catalonia says Spain is showing a "totalitarian attitude" with the arrests of Catalan officials and civil servants but is vowing to go ahead with an independence referendum despite legal warnings not to do so.
Carles Puigdemont appeared with members of his cabinet Wednesday following several arrests in an ongoing operation by Civil Guard agents. Those arrested include a top official managing the region's economic affairs.
Puigdemont says the police operations are unlawful and are aimed at preventing Catalans from voting on Oct. 1.
The vote has been suspended by Spain's Constitutional Court while judges consider the central government's claims that it is illegal.
Puigdemont also says that the central authorities moves amount to a "de facto" suspension of Catalonia's self-rule.
Spain's Finance Ministry says it has imposed further controls of the Catalan government's finances to ensure no public money is used for a planned Oct. 1 vote on the region's independence that Spain says violates the constitution.
Finance Minister Cristobal Montoro signed an order late Tuesday that limits new credit and requires central authorities' supervision for every payment of non-essential services in the northeastern region of Catalonia. The decision came after Catalan officials failed to voluntarily agree to the controls.
With the latest measure, virtually all Catalan spending will be in the hands of Madrid. The finance ministry took over the direct payment of basic services such as education, health and civil servants' salaries last week.
Regional officials have vowed to hold the referendum on Catalonia's secession from Spain despite fierce opposition from the central government and a suspension order by the Constitutional Court.
The prosperous Catalonia region, whose capital is Barcelona, generates a fifth of Spain's economy. The region's 7.5 million inhabitants are nearly evenly divided over independence.
News reports says Spanish police have arrested 12 people in raids on offices of the regional government of Catalonia as a crackdown intensifies on the region's preparations for a secession vote that Spain says is illegal.
Spain's Europa Press news agency and other media outlets said the raids Wednesday mostly targeted the region's economic and foreign departments as Spanish authorities worked to halt all preparatory moves for the planned Oct. 1referendum.
Hundreds of people gathered to protest the raids and shout pro-independence slogans outside offices in the region's capital, Barcelona.
The Catalan regional government confirmed Josep Maria Jove, secretary general of economic affairs, was among those arrested.
Police and judicial authorities would give no details on the operation, saying a judge has placed a secrecy order on it.
The Catalan regional government says that a top official in the management of the region's economic affairs has been arrested as a crackdown intensifies on preparations for a secession vote that Spanish authorities have suspended.
The arrest of Josep Maria Jove, secretary general of economic affairs and number two to the region's vice president Oriol Junqueras, took place on Wednesday morning as agents of Spain's Civil Guard searched the premises of the regional department of economy, a spokeswoman with the institution said.
A spokesman for Junqueras confirmed the arrest and said that other Catalan government premises were being searched by the agents. Both officials declined to be identified by name, following internal protocol.
The central government is waging myriad legal battles to halt the Oct. 1 referendum called by the pro-independence coalition ruling Catalonia, in northeastern Spain.