Spanish police storm Catalan government buildings to stop independence referendum

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Spanish national police have stormed ministries and buildings belonging to Catalonia’s regional government to put a stop to the region’s independence referendum.

The Guardia Civil, which acts with the authority of Madrid’s interior ministry, is searching for evidence regarding the planned 1 October referendum on Catalan independence, which Spain’s Constitutional Court has declared illegal.

In the early hours of the morning armed officers arrived at various Catalan ministries, including the economy department, foreign affairs department, and social affairs department, Spanish media reports.

At least twelve Catalan officials are said to have been arrested, including the chief aide to Catalonia’s deputy prime minister, Josep Maria Jové. The arrests come as the mayors of Catalan towns who back the referendum were yesterday questioned by state prosecutors.

Pro-independence crowds have formed outside the regional ministries in support of the provincial government and in protest against the raids and searches.

Speaking at lunchtime Carles Puigdemont, the president of the Catalonian government, said the Spanish government had “de facto suspended” home rule in the province.

Catalonia’s elected autonomous regional government, the Generalitat, had called the referendum after pro-independence parties were able to form an administration following elections in 2015.

The president of the province’s national assembly, Jordi Sànchez, on Wednesday morning called for “peaceful resistance” to the police operation.

“The time has come. We resist peacefully. We come out to defend our institutions with non-violence,” he said in a post on social media.

On Tuesday police searched for election material including ballot boxes, voting papers and campaign leaflets – raiding private courier companies in the process.

The Spanish national assembly on Wednesday rejected a motion to support the Spanish government’s heavy-handed response to the the referendum by 166 votes against to 158 in favor, after the centre-left opposition party PSOE teamed up with left-wingers Podemos and smaller separatist parties in the parliament.  

After news of the raids broke on Wednesday, separatist political parties, as well as Podemos, cancelled all their planned political events for the rest of the day.

“It is unacceptable for there to be political prisoners in a European democracy. The Partido Popular leads us to an authoritarian regression that cannot be tolerated,” a spokesperson for Podemos said on social media.

Right-wing parties however endorsed the police operation. Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera said he supported the raids because the Catalan government had “skipped the law and are trampling our rights”. A spokesperson for the ruling Partido Popular said that “the rule of law is stronger than those outside the law”.

Catalonia’s provincial government is a broad church of separatist parties from the left and right, ranging from the left-wing Republican Left of Catalonia to the centre-right Democratic Convergence of Catalonia.