Catalonia referendum: Separatists rally around mayors i…

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A supporter held up a poster of the ballot paper

Supporters of Catalan independence from Spain are rallying in Barcelona behind more than 700 mayors facing the threat of arrest for backing a referendum separatists plan to hold on 1 October.

The mayors have been called in for questioning by prosecutors for agreeing to facilitate the vote locally.

They could be arrested if they do not attend.

Madrid has promised to block the referendum, which has been suspended by the constitutional court.

Catalonia’s regional government insists the vote will take place as scheduled despite a growing clampdown by the Spanish state.

The mayors could also be charged with misuse of public funds if they help stage the vote.

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Mayors turned out with their staves of office

Some of the mayors gathered with Catalan President Carles Puigdemont outside the headquarters of the regional government, the Generalitat Palace, as supporters waved the lone-star flag of the independence movement.

“We stand firm against threats, censorship and prosecution and repeat this: we want to be a free country,” Mr Puigdemont told the crowd, according to a tweet by the Catalan National Assembly grassroots independence movement.

Chants of “We will vote” could be heard from the crowd.

On Friday, the Spanish government gave the regional government 48 hours to abandon its “illegal” referendum plans or lose budgetary powers.

Finance Minister Cristóbal Montoro said a mechanism had been approved for the state to take control of the autonomous region’s finances and stop the Catalan government spending public money on the referendum.

In other developments:

  • Police from Spain’s national Guardia Civil force seized 100,000 referendum posters during a raid in Barcelona as searches of print works and newspaper offices resumed

The location of more than 6,000 ballot boxes said by President Puigdemont to have been hidden for the referendum remains a mystery.

Police have been hunting for them but Toni Castejon, spokesman for the Catalan police force, admitted “right now, we have no idea where they are”, the Reuters news agency reported.

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