Catalan police warn about public order unrest on referendum day

Chief of regional Mossos force says officers will act with “proportionality” to avoid “undesired consequences”

Referendum information stand at Barcelona University.
Referendum information stand at Barcelona University.C. MARTÍNEZ / C. CÓRDOBA

After being told to seal off premises likely to be used as voting stations for Sunday’s planned independence referendum, the Catalan police have warned state prosecutors that following these orders could pose public order problems.

Josep Lluís Trapero, head of the Mossos d’Esquadra force, said there could be problems ensuring “citizen safety” and talked about “a predictable risk of public order disturbances” on a day when Catalans have been asked by their regional government to vote in an illegal referendum that violates Spanish legislation, and which has been suspended by the courts.

Let’s remind the government of Spain that prudence is good for everyone, including for the Attorney General

Pedro Sánchez, PSOE secretary general

He added that officers will act with “proportionality” to avoid “undesired consequences.”

Some groups in the education community have already called for volunteers to keep these centers open on Sunday.

“Faced with the latest news and events, individuals with ties to the education community have come together to express our rejection to sealing off the schools, and are calling upon citizens to open up the schools, to open up to democracy,” said Josep Maria Cervelló, spokesman for the Escoles Obertes project.

Cervelló underscored that they are supporting a “civic, orderly and peaceful mobilization” that excludes any kind of confrontation with law enforcement.

Protesters outside the economy department building in Barcelona on September 20.
Protesters outside the economy department building in Barcelona on September 20.EFE

Meanwhile, students at Barcelona University have been working in shifts for several days now, manning street stands where they are handing out ballot papers and providing information about the planned October 1 poll. Volunteers say they have handed out hundreds of voting papers since Friday.

“Nobody has said anything to us, not the [National] police and not the Mossos,” said an 18-year-old English Studies major as she used her cellphone to help a couple find their nearest voting station.

Nobody has said anything to us, not the police and not the Mossos

University student handing out ballot papers

Despite continuing action by the Spanish judiciary against the logistics of the vote – including a major court-ordered raid against Catalan government agencies last week to seize voting material – the Catalan government insists that there will be ballot boxes out on October 1.

But regional government spokesman Jordi Turull this week admitted that voting guarantees have been “crushed” by these actions. The Civil Guard has arrested 14 people, seized voting material, and the electoral board in charge of the recount was recently dissolved after facing thousands of euros in fines. The Mossos have also been instructed to identify individuals in charge of schools and other centers that will house the ballot boxes, and to prevent street voting within a 100-meter radius.


Meanwhile, Spain’s central High Court, the Audiencia Nacional, on Wednesday agreed to investigate a public prosecutor complaint against Barcelona protestors who congregated outside the regional economy department on the night that the Civil Guard raided this and other agencies in search of material for the vote.

Judge Carmen Lamela will investigate suspects for the crime of sedition, after Civil Guard patrol cars were vandalized and officers had to be escorted out of the building by the Mossos d’Esquadra, the Catalan police force.

The prosecution claims that the ultimate goal of the protestors was to break up the organization of the Spanish state, and thus represents an attack against the form of government.

Political suicide

Despite their show of unity, several statements made this week by Catalan officials suggest that even if a referendum takes place on Sunday, it will not necessarily lead to an immediate and unilateral declaration of independence, as leaders had earlier been proposing.

Regional premier Carles Puigdement told a French television station that after the vote, he wants to open up a transitional period of talks with Spain and the EU. And Carles Campuzano, the parliamentary spokesman for PDeCAT – the larger of the partners that form the governing coalition Junts pel Si (Together for Yes) – said on Tuesday that such a declaration of independence “does not show up” on his party’s platform, and that it is “absolutely ruled out” no matter what the outcome on October 1.

“Puigdemont has decided to commit suicide,” said Mariano Gomà, president of Societat Civil Catalana, Catalonia’s main civic association that opposes independence. “We have no doubt that the referendum will not be held because it violates all laws. There might be a mobilization or a mock vote, but it will have no meaning and no institutional support.”

But following rumors that Puigdemont himself could be accused of rebellion if he proclaims independence, the secretary general of the Spanish Socialists, Pedro Sánchez, called for political prudence.

“Let’s remind the government of Spain that prudence is good for everyone, including for the Attorney General,” said Sánchez at a speech inside the Senate.

The Mariano Rajoy administration is being chided by some for going too far in Catalonia, while others claim that it is doing too little to stop the illegal referendum. In the meantime, Rajoy has fallen back on the judiciary to halt the vote, while failing to address the nation about his long-term plans for what many agree is the biggest crisis facing Spain since the failed coup of 1981.

Barça match

Ramón Besa

The vice-president of FC Barcelona soccer club, Jordi Cardoner, said on Wednesday that the team will wear the regular red-and-blue shirts in the Liga game against Las Palmas at Camp Nou, even though some fan groups have asked them to wear the colors of the Catalan flag.

"We will go out on the pitch and train with the senyera [a shirt with the red-and-yellow colors of the Catalan flag] and then we will play with the red-and-blue shirts. And we will wear the senyera on the hems of our shirts and in our hearts."

“It’s not going to be a normal day, it’s going to be a historic day for the country, but the show that is soccer must go on normally,” added Cardoner. “It’s an important day for Catalonia, and Barça’s interests have to be compatible with those of a majority of Catalans, and we need to hold the match normally.”

English version by Susana Urra.

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