MADRID: Spanish police raided Catalan government offices and arrested officials on Wednesday to halt a banned referendum on independence, an action the regional president said meant Madrid had effectively taken over his administration.
Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the regional government offices in the center of Barcelona’s tourist district, waving the red-and-yellow Catalan flag and chanting “Occupying forces out” and “Where is Europe?”.
“The Spanish state has by all rights intervened in Catalonia’s government and has established emergency rule,” Catalan President Carles Puigdemont said in a televised address.
“We condemn and reject the anti-democratic and totalitarian actions of the Spanish state,” he said, adding Catalans should turn out in force to vote in the Oct. 1 referendum on a split from Spain that Madrid has declared illegal.
State police arrested Catalonia’s junior economy minister Josep Maria Jove on Wednesday in their first raid of government offices in the region, Catalan government sources said. The raid targeted several regional government departments.
A dozen high-ranking local officials were arrested, La Vanguardia newspaper said. Police confirmed they were carrying out raids connected with the banned referendum, but did not give details. The Catalan government sources could not confirm the other arrests.Among the protesters outside the government office in Barcelona, was Carlos, a 47-year-old taxi driver.
“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”.
The FC Barcelona soccer 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.