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Spain and Catalonia clash over police as illegal independence vote looms

Spain and Catalonia clash over police as illegal independence vote looms

Spain and Catalonia clash over police as illegal independence vote looms

By Julien Toyer and Tomás Cobos

MADRID (Reuters) – Spain’s widening political crisis over Catalonia’s campaign for independence intensified on Saturday with a fresh dispute over control of the local police force, as the regional government pushed ahead with plans to hold an illegal vote next weekend.
Catalonia’s state prosecutor told all local and national police forces on Saturday that they had been temporarily placed under a single chain of command, reporting directly to the Interior Ministry in Madrid.
But Catalonia’s interior chief, Joaquim Forn, said his department and the local police, or Mossos d’Esquadra, did not accept the decision.
“We denounce the intervention of the state to control the police force in Catalonia… We will not accept this control,” Forn said in a televised speech.
It was not immediately clear whether the regional administration and the Mossos might actually oppose the decision, as Spanish laws allow the state police to take over the policing of an autonomous community during a joint operation.
The central government’s representative in Catalonia, Enric Millo, previously said the Mossos remain in charge of security in Catalonia, although they will be “coordinated” directly by the Interior Ministry and not by local authorities, along with two national police forces also on the ground in Catalonia.
“We are not taking over the police powers of the regional government,” Millo told reporters after an event organized by his Popular Party (PP) in Palma de Mallorca, eastern Spain.
Millo also called on Catalan leaders, including Forn, to stop encouraging street protests and demonstrations.
Catalan newspaper La Vanguardia said the prosecutor’s order would remain in place until at least October 1, when the vote is due to take place.
The Mossosi are one of the symbols of Catalonia’s autonomy and for many Catalans the prosecutor’s decision may recall the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39 and the subsequent dictatorship of Francisco Franco, when the Mossosi were disbanded.
Several pro-independence groups have called for large-scale protests in central Barcelona on Sunday.
“Let’s respond to the state with an unstoppable wave of democracy,” said a Whatsapp message that was used to organize the demonstration.
Catalonia’s government launched a new website on Saturday with details on how and where to vote on October 1, challenging several court rulings that had blocked previous websites and declared the referendum unconstitutional.
“You can’t stop the tide,” Catalan President Carles Puigdemont said on Twitter, providing the link to the new site.
But Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy again insisted the vote should not take place.
“It won’t happen because that would mean liquidating the law,” he said at the PP event in Palma de Mallorca.
Acting on court orders, Spanish state police have already raided regional government offices, temporarily arrested several senior Catalan officials accused of organizing the referendum, and confiscated ballot papers, ballot boxes, voting lists and electoral material and literature.
Madrid’s Finance Ministry has also taken control of regional finances to ensure that public money is not spent to pay for voting or campaign logistics.
Between 3,000 and 4,000 police from other Spanish regions have already arrived in Catalonia or are on their way. They will join the 5,000 state police already stationed in the region and the 17,000 local Mossos.

(Editing by Greg Mahlich)