Sunday 18 February 2018

Spanish police storm Catalan government buildings and arrest minister and 12 other regional officials in raids over referendum

The central government in Madrid says the breakaway region's referendum is illegal

A crowd of protesters gather outside the Catalan region's economy ministry after junior economy minister Josep Maria Jove was arrested by Spanish police during a raid on several government offices, in Barcelona, Spain, September 20, 2017. REUTERS/Albert Gea
A crowd of protesters gather outside the Catalan region's economy ministry after junior economy minister Josep Maria Jove was arrested by Spanish police during a raid on several government offices, in Barcelona, Spain, September 20, 2017. REUTERS/Albert Gea
Catalan police officers scuffle with protestors outside a Unipost office which was raided in search of material for the proposed October 1 referendum, in Terrassa, Spain, September 19, 2017. REUTERS/Albert Gea
A man holds up a carnation next to a Spanish civil guard during a raid on a Unipost office in search of material for the proposed October 1 referendum, in Terrassa, Spain, September 19, 2017. REUTERS/Albert Gea
Spanish civil guards block a street next to a Unipost office which was raided in search of material for the proposed October 1 referendum, in Terrassa, Spain September 19, 2017. REUTERS/Albert Gea
Catalan police officers remove a protestor from the street outside a Unipost office which was raided in search of material for the proposed October 1 referendum, in Terrassa, Spain, September 19, 2017. REUTERS/Albert Gea
People look at pro-independence meeting for the Catalan referendum on October 1 in Girona, Spain, September 18, 2017. REUTERS/Albert Gea
A protestor holds up an Estelada (Catalan separatist flag) outside a Unipost office which was raided in search of material for the proposed October 1 referendum, in Terrassa, Spain, September 19, 2017. REUTERS/Albert Gea

Jon Stone

Spanish national police have stormed ministries and buildings belonging to Catalonia's regional government to put a stop to the region's independence referendum.

The Guardia Civil, which acts with the authority of Madrid's interior ministry, is searching for evidence regarding the planned 1 October referendum on Catalan independence, which Spain's Constitutional Court has declared illegal.

A protestor holds up an Estelada (Catalan separatist flag) outside a Unipost office which was raided in search of material for the proposed October 1 referendum, in Terrassa, Spain, September 19, 2017. REUTERS/Albert Gea
A protestor holds up an Estelada (Catalan separatist flag) outside a Unipost office which was raided in search of material for the proposed October 1 referendum, in Terrassa, Spain, September 19, 2017. REUTERS/Albert Gea

In the early hours of the morning armed officers arrived at various Catalan ministries, including the economy department, foreign affairs department, and social affairs department, Spanish media reports.

At least twelve Catalan officials are said to have been arrested, including the chief aide to Catalonia's deputy prime minister, Josep Maria Jové. The arrests come as the mayors of Catalan towns who back the referendum were yesterday questioned by state prosecutors.

Catalan police officers scuffle with protestors outside a Unipost office which was raided in search of material for the proposed October 1 referendum, in Terrassa, Spain, September 19, 2017. REUTERS/Albert Gea
Catalan police officers scuffle with protestors outside a Unipost office which was raided in search of material for the proposed October 1 referendum, in Terrassa, Spain, September 19, 2017. REUTERS/Albert Gea

Pro-independence crowds have formed outside the regional ministries in support of the provincial government and in protest against the raids and searches.

Catalonia’s elected autonomous regional government, the Generalitat, had called the referendum after pro-independence parties were able to form an administration following elections in 2015.

Spanish civil guards block a street next to a Unipost office which was raided in search of material for the proposed October 1 referendum, in Terrassa, Spain September 19, 2017. REUTERS/Albert Gea
Spanish civil guards block a street next to a Unipost office which was raided in search of material for the proposed October 1 referendum, in Terrassa, Spain September 19, 2017. REUTERS/Albert Gea

The president of the province's national assembly, Jordi Sànchez, on Wednesday morning called for "peaceful resistance" to the police operation.

“The time has come. We resist peacefully. We come out to defend our institutions with non-violence,” he said in a post on social media.

Catalan police officers remove a protestor from the street outside a Unipost office which was raided in search of material for the proposed October 1 referendum, in Terrassa, Spain, September 19, 2017. REUTERS/Albert Gea
Catalan police officers remove a protestor from the street outside a Unipost office which was raided in search of material for the proposed October 1 referendum, in Terrassa, Spain, September 19, 2017. REUTERS/Albert Gea

On Tuesday police searched for election material including ballot boxes, voting papers and campaign leaflets - raiding private courier companies in the process.

The Spanish national assembly on Wednesday rejected a motion to support the Spanish government's heavy-handed response to the the referendum by 166 votes against to 158 in favor, after the centre-left opposition party PSOE teamed up with left-wingers Podemos and smaller separatist parties in the parliament.  

People look at pro-independence meeting for the Catalan referendum on October 1 in Girona, Spain, September 18, 2017. REUTERS/Albert Gea
People look at pro-independence meeting for the Catalan referendum on October 1 in Girona, Spain, September 18, 2017. REUTERS/Albert Gea

After news of the raids broke on Wednesday, separatist political parties, as well as Podemos, cancelled all their planned political events for the rest of the day.

A man holds up a carnation next to a Spanish civil guard during a raid on a Unipost office in search of material for the proposed October 1 referendum, in Terrassa, Spain, September 19, 2017. REUTERS/Albert Gea
A man holds up a carnation next to a Spanish civil guard during a raid on a Unipost office in search of material for the proposed October 1 referendum, in Terrassa, Spain, September 19, 2017. REUTERS/Albert Gea

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