Spain’s prime minister has urged Catalonia to end its bid for independence “once and for all,” as thousands protest in the autonomous Spanish region over the detention of regional officials ahead of a banned independence vote.
“Stop this escalation of radicalism and disobedience once and for all,” Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said in a televised statement on Wednesday night, adding there was still time to avoid bigger problems.
Earlier, Catalan President Carles Puigdemont had called for a democratic and pacific response by the Catalans to pressure from Madrid and asked them to massively participate in the referendum planned for October 1.
The central government stepped up its operations in Catalonia on Wednesday morning as it ordered the civil guards to raid the ministry buildings of Catalonia’s regional government and detain 14 pro-independence officials in an attempt to block the referendum, which is deemed illegal by Madrid.
The Spanish constitution states that the unity of the Spanish nation is “unbreakable” and that only the central government has the power to call a referendum on an issue.
According to Catalan government sources, Catalonia’s junior economy minister and the secretary general of the Catalan vice-presidency, Josep Maria Jove, have been taken into custody by Spanish police.
Puigdemont called the measures taken by Rajoy’s government “anti-democratic.”
Puigdemont described the raids as “a coordinated police assault,” which he said showed that Madrid “has de facto suspended self-government and applied a de facto state of emergency” in Catalonia.
‘A democratic disgrace’
He also stressed that the referendum would go ahead despite the pressure from Madrid.
“We reaffirm our peaceful response,” he said. “The Spanish government has crossed a red line and become a democratic disgrace.”
Puigdemont, who faces criminal charges for organizing the referendum, has said there are over 6,000 ballot boxes ready for the vote.
Meanwhile, Rajoy has defended the arrests, saying the government is fulfilling its obligations.
The central government has also taken over the payment of essential services and public workers’ salaries in Catalonia to prevent the money from being spent on the referendum.
The Wednesday raids fueled a quick public response on the streets of the Catalan capital.
The wealthy region held a symbolic referendum back in November 2014, in which more than 80 percent of the 2.3 million people who cast ballots backed independence for Catalonia, according to Catalan officials.
According to recent polls, about 41 percent of people in the region support independence.