Students demand right to vote in Catalonia referendum
Thousands of striking university students marched through Barcelona to protest what they call an intensifying central government crackdown on Sunday's planned independence referendum in Catalonia.
The students are demanding the right to vote in the regional ballot on secession, which the Madrid-based national government says is illegal.
Many protesters carried pro-independence flags and handmade banners, with slogans such as "we want to vote". The march yesterday and the strikes were called by Catalonia's main student unions.
Laia Ferrus, a 20-year-old student of education, said she had chosen to come out of a sense of democratic duty.
"It's no longer about calling for independence. It's about standing up for our basic principles and rights," she said.
Yesterday, Catalonia's foreign affairs chief appealed for support from the European Union for his region's disputed referendum on independence from Spain, which the Spanish government is trying to stop.
Raul Romeva said in Brussels that EU institutions need to "understand that (the referendum) is a big issue".
Mr Romeva spoke hours before the striking Catalan university students marched through Barcelona.
The previous day, Catalan regional president Carles Puigdemont accused the EU, in an interview with The Associated Press, of "turning its back" on Catalonia in its conflict with Spain's central government.
Mr Romeva accused the Spanish government of a "brutal crackdown" on Catalan officials to try to prevent the vote.
He said he doesn't expect violence on the day of the ballot.
Meanwhile, an international media watchdog rebuked the Catalan region's pro-independence movement for placing undue pressure on journalists to present its side of the dispute.
Reporters Without Borders said in a report published yesterday that pressure by the Catalan government and social media harassment by "hooligans" of the pro-independence movement has created a suffocating atmosphere for journalists covering the referendum.
It said the regional government's push to impose its side of the story in local, Spanish and international media had "crossed red lines".
The watchdog added that Spanish authorities' legal measures against Catalan media to stop the spread of information about the referendum had contributed to an atmosphere of extreme tension.