Catalan government says independence referendum plans have been dealt a blow

Polls show that while Catalans are sharply divided on whether they want independence or not, a large majority would like to vote to settle the matter.

Published: 21st September 2017 08:52 PM  |   Last Updated: 21st September 2017 08:52 PM   |  A+A-

A crowd of pro-independence protestors gather outside the headquarters of the region's department of economic affairs in Barcelona. (Photo | AP)


BARCELONA: The Catalan government acknowledged Thursday that its plans to hold an independence referendum on October 1 had been dealt a blow by a crackdown by Spanish authorities against the vote which Madrid deems illegal.

"It is obvious that the rules of the game have been changed," Catalan vice president Oriol Junqueras told Catalonia's TV3 a day after police detained 14 Catalan officials suspected of preparing the vote slated for October 1.

Among those arrested was Josep Maria Jove, secretary general of economic affairs and Junqueras's right-hand man, and four other top members of the Catalan government's economy department.

Spanish police also said Wednesday that they had seized "close to 10 million ballot papers" destined for a vote which has been deemed illegal by Madrid and Spain's Constitutional Court.

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

"The circumstances today are different because a significant part of our team, half of the economics team, has been arrested," said Junqueras, who belongs to the far-left pro-independence party ERC.

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

Polls show that while Catalans are sharply divided on whether they want independence or not, a large majority would like to vote to settle the matter.

Madrid is against it, pointing to the constitution which states that the unity of the Spanish nation is "unbreakable" and that only the central government has the power to call a referendum on any matter.

But separatists in Catalonia, a region with its own language and customs, say they have a democratic right to decide on their future.


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