BARCELONA (AFP) –
Catalan police warned Wednesday that public disorder may erupt as Spain orders the authorities to seal polling stations and stop the region holding a referendum on independence.
The Catalan government has vowed to press ahead with Sunday’s plebiscite despite a crackdown by Madrid which wants to prevent a vote deemed unconstitutional by the courts.
The referendum has deeply divided the wealthy northeastern region which is home to some 7.5 million people and accounts for about a fifth of Spain’s economy.
Late on Tuesday, Catalonia’s chief prosecutor ordered the force to seal off buildings that will house polling stations before Sunday’s referendum which Madrid has declared illegal.
But such a step “could lead to undesirable consequences,” the Mossos d’Esquadra warned in a posting on Twitter on Wednesday.
“These consequences refer to public security and to the more than foreseeable risk of a disruption of public order that this may generate.”
The prosecutor also ordered police to deploy officers on the day of the ballot to prevent people from voting.
The order puts intense pressure on the regional police who are caught between their loyalty to local Catalan leaders who are pushing ahead with the referendum and their pledge to uphold the law.
The Catalan government has said it will set up nearly 2,700 polling stations, the same amount as in the last regional elections in 2015.
The region’s interior minister Joaquim Forn said the measures demanded by the prosecutor were a “huge mistake”.
“They are likely to prevent people from voting in big cities” which will greatly reduce the number of voters meaning the ballot will have as little legitimacy as possible, a senior judicial source said.
– ‘Absence of government’ –
Ignacio Gonzalez, a spokesman for Judges for Democracy, said it was “feasible” for police to seal polling stations.
“The problem is the unrest that this could cause,” he told AFP.
Meanwhile, Spain’s High Court accepted a complaint for sedition filed by prosecutors against the organisers of protests in Barcelona last week.
Several officers from the Guardia Civil police force were unable to leave a Catalan government building after conducting searches due to the mass of demonstrators outside.
Pro-independence Catalan high school students began a strike on Wednesday and pledged to occupy their schools, which could serve as polling stations.