Catalan government defiant over referendum despite arrests

October 1st independence vote to go ahead, says Puigdemont, after Spanish police raid

Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy has defended the arrest of Catalan officials ahead of an unauthorised referendum on independence. Video: Reuters


The Catalan government has vowed to push ahead with an October 1st referendum on independence after police raided several of its premises on Wednesday and arrested officials for their alleged involvement in the vote, which Madrid deems illegal.

The Spanish civil guard entered several premises belonging to the Catalan regional administration, including the headquarters of its economy and foreign departments. According to initial reports, at least 14 officials were arrested, although the Catalan government only confirmed the name of one, Josep Maria Jove, of the regional economy ministry.

In response to the police action, spontaneous demonstrations in favour of the referendum took place in Barcelona and several other Catalan cities.

“The Spanish state has become a democratic embarrassment,” Catalan regional premier Carles Puigdemont said in a statement after the arrests.

“We have been the victims of a co-ordinated attack, beyond any legal framework. The Spanish state has effectively suspended Catalonia’s autonomous powers.”

Legal action

The arrests are the latest episode in a wave of legal action by Madrid to prevent the referendum from taking place, with the central government saying it is unconstitutional. The Spanish government has warned that officials who try to help the vote take place will be liable to face legal action and about 800 Catalan mayors who have offered their support for the referendum are already under investigation.

The Spanish postal service has warned its staff not to handle material linked to the referendum and on Tuesday the civil guard searched two offices of private postal firm Unipost, reportedly finding some documents related to the vote.

The Spanish government has also threatened to take control of part of the Catalan budget in order to prevent public money being spent on the referendum.

However, despite the logistical setbacks ahead of the scheduled vote, Mr Puigdemont was defiant.

“Until [October 1st], we will need an attitude of firmness and calm at the same time,” he said. “But on the 1st we will leave our homes, we will have a voting slip and we will use it.”

During a tense exchange in Spain’s Congress as news of the raids emerged, prime minister Mariano Rajoy defended the actions of the police and his government in recent days, insisting the vote will not take place.

“There is no democratic state in the world that would accept what these people are proposing,” he said of the Catalan independence movement. “They were warned, they knew the referendum could not take place because it means destroying national sovereignty and the rights of all Spaniards to decide what they want their country to be.”

On Tuesday, a parliamentary motion presented by the liberal Ciudadanos party seeking to unite the country’s main unionist forces behind the Popular Party (PP) government ahead of October 1st fell short of the votes it needed to be approved.

“If we really want to resolve this territorial crisis then we mustn’t look for winners and losers, that is guaranteed to lead us to failure,” said Meritxell Batet, of the Socialist Party, which refused to back the initiative.