The Spanish region of Catalonia is set to hold a referendum on independence on October 1. About 1.6 million people live in Barcelona, Catalonia's capital, which is a major tourist destination. Sunday's vote will be the region's second referendum on independence in three years. The previous ballot, a non-binding vote in November 2014, returned an 80 percent result in favour of an independent Catalan state. However, less than half of the 5.4 million eligible voters participated.
Pro-independence supporters have gathered outside Barcelona's top court for a second consecutive day, protesting against the Spanish government's attempts to block a referendum on Catalonia's split from Spain. The demonstrations began after Spanish authorities, which outlawed the vote scheduled for October 1, detained on Wednesday 14 regional officials and seized referendum materials, including some 10m ballot papers, in an unprecedented raid of regional government offices. The protesters on Thursday packed the Barcelona boulevard connecting Arc de Triomf and Parc Ciutadella, two popular tourist attractions, waving signs reading "Stop dictatorship" and "We want to vote". "Certainly, the people here are saying they are not going anywhere," Al Jazeera's Karl Penhaul, reporting from the protest site in Catalonia's main city, said. "They have been chanting slogans such as, 'The streets are ours', a clear determination that they think that one of the ways they can force through this referendum, despite the growing police action, is to try and mobilise, get out there and maintain a presence in these public spaces."
"It won't happen," insists Spain's prime minister, and for the Catalan leaders trying to organise Sunday's vote on seceding from Spain, his words are becoming harder and harder to contradict. The nerve centre of the 1 October referendum - Catalonia's economy department - has been seriously damaged by raids carried out by Spain's military police force, the Civil Guard. Fourteen junior officials and associates were arrested, but more importantly close to 10 million ballot papers were impounded, and websites informing Catalans about the election have been shut down. The government in this north-eastern region of Spain admits its logistical effort to organise the referendum has been seriously disabled, as it defies a suspension of the vote by Spain's constitutional court. Spain's interior ministry has hired three ferries to accommodate the extra security contingent being sent to the region, and a power struggle has blown up over control of Catalonia's regional police, the Mossos d'Esquadra.
Spanish police have arrested the Catalan region's junior economy minister as part of a morning raid on several government offices in the run-up to an independence referendum, according to sources within the regional government. Besides arresting Josep Maria Jove, police on Wednesday entered the local governmental offices of the economy, interior, foreign affairs, welfare, telecommunications and tax, the sources said. Spain's Guardia Civil police on Wednesday searched several headquarters in Barcelona of Catalonia's regional government, a Catalan government spokesman said. Al Jazeera's Karl Penhaul, reporting from Catalonia, said the police are looking for any evidence of wrongdoing, " and evidence of support by the regional government for the October 1 independence referendum, which the central government has dubbed undemocratic and illegal". The operation comes amid mounting tensions as Catalan leaders press ahead with preparations for the independence referendum on October 1 despite Madrid's ban and a court ruling deeming it illegal.
Standing inside the grand hall of the Palau de la Generalitat, the Catalan regional government's headquarters in the Spanish city of Barcelona, in early 2016, a 54-year-old bespectacled former journalist addressed a crowd of politicians and citizens. Carles Puigdemont had just been inaugurated the Catalan president. Hanging around his neck was the gold medal of the government to symbolise his role as the 130th leader of the region. With pro-independence flags fluttering inside and outside the hall, he declared, "We have come from far, but we are not tired. We are full of hope."