Spanish civil guard officers have raided Catalan government buildings and arrested senior officials in an effort to prevent the organisation of an independence referendum that Madrid has ruled to be illegal. During the swoop in the early hours of Wednesday morning the Catalan ministries of the economy, foreign affairs, and social affairs were searched for materials relating to the independence referendum due to take place on October 1. Among the dozen or so officials arrested was Josep Maria Jove, the secretary general of the Catalan vice presidency.
Catalan separatist parties won a majority of seats in the 2015 regional elections vowing to hold a referendum on breaking the north eastern region of 7.5 million people away from Spain. Earlier this month the Catalan government passed a law providing the legal framework for the referendum to go ahead. A few days later, the Constitutional Court in Madrid suspended the law, and with it, the referendum, but authorities in Barcelona pledged to proceed with the vote regardless. As the proposed referendum date approaches both sides have dug in their heels. On Saturday 700 mayors of Catalan towns marched through central Barcelona demanding the right to hold the referendum. The following day, Spanish police seized 1.3 million pro-independence pamphlets and posters from a delivery company in the town of Terrassa, near the Catalan capital.
As news broke about Wednesday’s raids and arrests thousands of people took to the streets to protest Madrid’s actions. Ada Colau, the Mayor of Barcelona, who has tried to remain impartial in the debate, also condemned them on Twitter saying “We will defend Catalan institutions”
Es un escàndol democràtic que s'escorcolli institucions i es detinguin càrrecs públics per motius polítics. Defensem institucions catalanes
— Ada Colau (@AdaColau) September 20, 2017
The Catalan electorate is deeply divided over the question of independence with support dropping from a high just over 50 percent in 2012 to 41.1 percent in the most recent polls, with 49.4% opposed. However, a firm majority of over 70 percent want the right to vote on the matter in a referendum.