In Catalonia, Thousands Protest Spanish Attempts To Stop Referendum Vote

Spain's Guardia Civil raids Catalan government offices

Dramatic scenes unfolded across Barcelona and other Catalan towns as the Guardia Civil mounted 41 raids targeting government and presidential departments, as well as warehouses containing election material.

The escalating constitutional row has seen Catalonia's devolved government determined to hold an unsanctioned vote on October 1 and Spain using increasingly heavy-handed tactics to prevent it. Spain's National Police force has dispatched around 1,200 officers to join the almost 3,000 permanently stationed in Catalonia, a union representative said, although numbers could increase.

Seven central board members are to be fined 12,000 euros a day while 15 provincial members have to pay 6,000 euros a day.

In a televised statement on Wednesday evening, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy called on Catalonia's separatist leaders to "stop this escalation of radicalism and disobedience once and for all". They consider that voting for Catalonia's separation would be completely illegal because it would act against the Spanish constitution.

Spain's Minister of Economy and Competitiveness, Luis de Guindos said Thursday that the situation over the referendum in the country's northeastern region of Catalonia had no impact on the Spanish economy "for now", media reported.

Speaking in Prague on Thursday, the tennis star said "I can't imagine Spain without Catalonia and Catalonia without Spain".

Nadal, who was born in Mallorca, Spain, said he loves the Catalan region and would like to see both sides seriously discuss the matter to find a good resolution.

Numerous angry protesters have been waving Catalonia's red and yellow flag while chanting "We will vote" and "Hello Democracy!"

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PROTESTERS gathered in their thousands yesterday outside Catalonia's Economy Ministry in Barcelona to demand the release of officials arrested for planning an independence vote deemed illegal by Madrid.

Police searches on Wednesday sparked mass street protests in Barcelona.

"That (the referendum) can not be held in the circumstances that we wanted is obvious", he said, adding he was convinced the "majority" of Catalans wanted to vote. At least 10 Catalan politicians were arrested Wednesday are yet to appear in court in Barcelona. However, regionş officials don't intend to change plans and say the plebiscite will go ahead as planned if it is possible.

Wednesday's event ended with separatist leader Jordi Sanchez giving a defiant speech from the top of a battered police vehicle outside the regional economy department as Spanish officers struggled through the mass of protesters after searching the building.

Catalan National Assembly president Jordi Sanchez told the cheering crowds: "We will be here, peacefully but present, until all of the arrested walk out free".

The group, a driving force behind the secession movement, urged people to gather at noon Thursday outside the region's justice tribunal and bring tents if needed.

Wednesday's police raids led to at least 14 arrests as the Civil Guard also seized nearly 10 million voting slips at an industrial warehouse near Barcelona.

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