Deporte

Catalan leader says crackdown has undermined independence bid

Catalan leader says crackdown has undermined independence bid

PROTESTERS gathered in their thousands yesterday outside Catalonia's Economy Ministry in Barcelona to demand the release of officials arrested for planning an independence vote deemed illegal by Madrid.

The surprise police operation prompted thousands of pro-separatist demonstrators to take to the streets in Barcelona.

Catalonia's president hit back by accusing the Spanish government of suspending the region's autonomy.

"Madrid's legal response to the Catalan challenge looks increasingly likely to stop the organization of the self-determination vote, or at least void it of any legitimacy", wrote Antonio Barroso, an analyst at Teneo Intelligence. "However, "everything is being done" to allow the vote to proceed".

However, one survey commissioned by the Catalan government in July suggested that 41% of voters backed independence while 49% were opposed.

The Assembly of Stevedores of the Port of Barcelona announced that workers would not provide any services to boats carrying security forces, a decision it said was taken "in defence of civil rights". The region's 7.5 million inhabitants are almost evenly divided over independence.

The ruling PP government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and major opposition parties in Madrid have declared an independence referendum illegal and against Spain's constitution.

Puigdemont says the police operations are unlawful and are aimed at preventing Catalans from voting on October 1.

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"That (the referendum) can not be held in the circumstances that we wanted is obvious", he said, adding that he was convinced the "majority" of Catalans wanted to vote.

A ministry statement said the measure will run initially from Wednesday until October 5 — four days after the planned referendum, which Spain says is illegal and won't be allowed.

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. It's unclear what steps the Spanish government would take in case of a declaration of unilateral independence.

Spain's Minister of Economy and Competitiveness, Luis de Guindos said Thursday that the situation over the referendum in the country's northeastern region of Catalonia had no impact on the Spanish economy "for now", media reported.

Basically, yes. But tensions have escalated significantly this week after Spanish Guardia Civil officers raided a dozen regional government premises in Barcelona and arrested 14 senior officials, including Catalonia's secretary general of economic affairs and the secretary of taxation.

Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau, meanwhile, called on people to continue protesting "peacefully" against what she labelled Rajoy's "repressive strategy".

They refused to move as the day wore on, further angered by an announcement by the interior ministry that police had seized "close to 10 million ballot papers" destined for the vote outlawed by the central government.

A spokesman for Junqueras confirmed the arrest and said that other Catalan government premises were being searched by the agents.