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13th Apr 2024

Spain arrests Catalan officials

  • The referendum, deemed to be illegal, will take place on 1 October. (Photo: Nuria)

Spanish gendarmes have arrested Catalan officials and seized ballots for an independence referendum on 1 October, prompting appeals for EU help.

The Guardia Civil raided 22 buildings and arrested 14 people in Barcelona and in a satellite town, Bigues i Riells, in an anti-referendum operation on Wednesday (20 September).

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  • Commissioner Dombrovskis had nothing to say. (Photo: European Parliament)

Most of the arrests were senior Catalan officials, including the top economy ministry official, Josep Maria Jove, and his counterpart in the treasury, Josep Maria Salvado.

The gendarmes also arrested Mercedes Martinez Martos, the head of an advertising firm, whose warehouse was found to contain 9 million ballot papers, which were seized.

Speaking in parliament in Madrid the same day, Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy said he had to act because Catalonia had defied a constitutional court order not to hold the independence referendum on 1 October.

"Logically, the state has to react. There is no democratic state in the world that would accept what these people are trying to do. They've been warned and they know the referendum can't take place," he said.

"The rule of law works," he added.

The Guardia Civil raids prompted fiery denunciations by Catalan leaders.

Carles Puigdemont, the president of the Catalan government, said Spain had "de facto suspended self-government and applied a de facto state of emergency".

He also said it was a "repressive and intimidatory regime … a democratic disgrace".

Ada Colau, the mayor of Barcelona, said it was "a scandal" that "elected officials" had been "detained for political reasons".

Gabriel Rufian, a pro-Catalan MP in Madrid, told Rajoy to take his "dirty hands off Catalan institutions".

The Guardia Civil raids also prompted a few thousand people to demonstrate on the streets of Barcelona.

They chanted slogans such as "We will vote!" and "Occupation forces out!", but remained peaceful.

They also chanted "Where is Europe?" in an appeal for international help.

In Brussels, three pro-independence Spanish MEPs urged the European Commission to intervene and a handful of pro-Catalan protesters met outside the EU Council HQ.

Jordi Sole and Josep-Maria Terricabras from the Green group and Ramon Tremosa from the Liberals called on EU commissioners "to not remain indifferent" to what they called Spain's "siege" of Catalonia.

The far-left GUE group and some individual MEPs, such as Slovenian liberal Ivo Vajgl, also complained.

But speaking later the same day, EU commission vice-president Valdis Dombrovskis declined to comment on Wednesday's events.

"We don't have anything new to add at this stage," he said.

The commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, said last week that Catalonia should respect the constitutional court ruling.

Rajoy's centre-right Popular Party and the centre-left Socialist Party have also spoken of invoking article 155 of the Spanish constitution that could suspend Catalonia's self-rule if things got worse.

Recent polls indicated that 70 percent of Catalans wanted the referendum, but only 41 percent wanted independence.

The Catalan independence movement began in the 1920s.

It was almost always peaceful, but the pro-independence Terra Lliure group, which was active between 1978 and 1995, killed one person.

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