Catalunya is due to vote on independence on October 1
Catalunya is due to vote on independence on October 1 (Image: REX/Shutterstock)

Spain is in crisis tonight as demands for a vote on Catalan independence threatened to tear the country apart.

At least 40,000 people have gathered in Barcelona, while thousands more are demonstrating in cities and towns throughout the region.

Many are waving Catalunya’s red and yellow flag and chanting “Occupying forces out” and “Where is Europe?”

The mass protests were sparked when Spain’s military police, the Guardia Civil, raided Catalan government offices on Wednesday and arrested at least a dozen officials.

Catalunya is due to hold a referendum on independence on October 1, which the Spanish government has declared illegal.

Madrid has sent in extra troops and promised an extra 4,000 are waiting to be deployed.

Mass protests on Las Ramblas in Barcelona over independence (Image: REX/Shutterstock)

Pictures and video circulating on social media claimed to show tanks being sent to the region, although they could not be verified.

In a dramatic television address, Catalan President Carles Puigdemont said: “The Spanish state has by all rights intervened in Catalonia’s government and has established emergency rule.

“We condemn and reject the anti-democratic and totalitarian actions of the Spanish state.”

Puigdemont accused the Spanish state of having “de facto” suspended Catalunya’s right to self-government with an act of “democratic embarrassment”.

Dozens of Catalan officials have been arrested
Dozens of Catalan officials have been arrested over the ‘illegal’ vote (Image: REX/Shutterstock)

Wikileaks founder Julian tweeted images of the mass protests and claimed: “Spain lost Catalonia tonight.”

State police arrested Catalonia’s junior economy minister Josep Maria Jove among other high-ranking local officials.

Police confirmed they were carrying out raids connected with the banned referendum, but did not give details.

In several Barcelona districts, people banged on balconies railings and dumpsters while passing cars hooted noisily.

Among the protesters outside the government office in Barcelona, was Carlos, a 47-year-old taxi driver.

Catalans are protesting after Spain suspended their autonomous
Catalans are protesting after Spain suspended their autonomous government (Image: REX/Shutterstock)

“We’re here so they know they can’t do whatever they want,” he said, as protesters bore banners reading “Democracy” and

“Vote to be free”.

Barcelona football club said in a statement: “FC Barcelona, in remaining faithful to its historic commitment to the defense of the nation, to democracy, to freedom of speech, and to self-determination, condemns any act that may impede the free exercise of these rights.”

Police efforts to stop the referendum have intensified in recent days as the wealthy northeastern region shows no signs of halting it.

Protest Against Police Search Operations Barcelona
Protest Against Police Search Operations Barcelona (Image: REX/Shutterstock)

Acting under court orders, police have raided printers, newspaper offices and private delivery companies in a search for campaign literature, instruction manuals for manning voting stations and ballot boxes.

The Civil Guard seized 10 million ballot papers, polling station displays as well as documents and forms to run the vote, including a list of voters under the headline “2017 Catalonia self-determination referendum”.

It had on Tuesday seized more than 45,000 envelopes packed in cardboard boxes that the Catalan government was ready to send to notify people about the referendum, while the first of hundreds of Catalan mayors appeared before the state prosecutor after they said they would back the referendum.

Spain’s finance ministry has taken over the region’s finances to prevent the use of public money to organise the vote.

But the central government must tread a fine line in enforcing the law in the region without seeming heavy-handed.

Polls show a minority of Catalans, albeit more than 40 percent, support independence although a majority want a referendum on the issue.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said on Wednesday the operations in Catalonia were the result of legal rulings and were to ensure the rule of law.

He later called on Catalan leaders to cancel the vote.

“Don’t go ahead, you don’t have any legitimacy to do it.

“Go back to the law and democracy (…) This referendum is a chimera,” he said in a televised speech.

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Any action that broke the law would be met with a proportionate response, he added.

The Constitutional Court has suspended the vote after the central government challenged its legality.

Spain’s central government says the referendum goes against the 1978 constitution which states Spain is indivisible.

Under Article 155 of the constitution, Madrid has the power to suspend the regional government’s authority to rule.

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