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Standoff Between Catalonia And Spain Heats Up Ahead Of Independence Vote

REUTERS/Albert Gea/File Photo

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Jacob Bojesson Foreign Correspondent

More than 160 schools have been occupied around Catalonia as separatists and the Spanish government are in a standoff ahead of a planned referendum Sunday.

Tens of thousands of people are expected to attempt to vote in schools around the region. Police inspected 1,300 out of the 2,315 designated polling station Saturday, with 163 being occupied by separatists. The remaining facilities have been sealed off by police.

The referendum has been deemed unconstitutional by courts, but Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont affirms that the vote will go ahead as planned.

“Everything is prepared at the more than 2,000 voting points so they have ballot boxes and voting slips, and have everything people need to express their opinion,” Puigdemont told Reuters.

Meanwhile, the Spanish government insists “there will be no referendum” and that anyone trying to organize it will face criminal charges, government spokesman Inigo Mendez de Vigo said Friday.

The standoff has so far been peaceful, and Puigdemont has called on Catalans to remain calm and not use violence.

“I don’t believe there will be anyone who will use violence or who will want to provoke violence that will tarnish the irreproachable image of the Catalan independence movement as pacifist,” Puigdemont said.

Catalonia has pushed for a legitimate referendum for years. An 80 percent majority backed independence in a symbolic referendum in 2014, which the federal government ruled unconstitutional. Three former officials, including the former Catalan President Artur Mas, were barred from holding public office as a result.

Spain has threatened to suspend hundreds of mayors for backing Sunday’s referendum. Polls suggest that a majority of people want to remain part of Spain while also supporting the vote to settle the issue.

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