Spain calls in Catalan mayors over independence vote bid

Catalan protest

If they win, the separatists vow to declare independence within days for the wealthy northeastern region of Spain, with its capital Barcelona, which is home to around 7.5 million people.

Mayor of Vilanova I la Geltru Neus Lloveras, also a member of the Catalan regional assembly and the president of the Association of Municipalities for Independence (AMI), and Premia de Mar Mayor Miquel Buch, who is president of the Catalan Association of Municipalities (ACM), have been charged with disobedience and the misuse of public funds. Pro-independence groups in Catalonia say the vote will go ahead even though the Constitutional Court has suspended it ahead of a ruling on its legality.

On Wednesday, the country's top prosecutor, Jose Manuel Maza, ordered provincial prosecutors to investigate 712 mayors who have already offered municipal facilities for the October 1 vote and the regional Catalan police to arrest them if they don't show up for testimony.

Meanwhile, the prosecutor is also focusing on ballots and campaigning, conducting searches at print shops suspected of printing material for the referendum. The Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has told Catalan's not to go to the polling station.

"They want to stage a mock referendum to justify a declaration of independence".

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The king added that the rights of all Spaniards will be upheld against "whoever steps outside constitutional and statutory law".

It is the latest in a series of attempts by Madrid to stop the referendum from taking place. "If they force people to choose between democracy and police, the choice is clear", Pique said to AFP. In 2015, the court declared regional independence referendums to be unconstitutional.

Catalan leaders remain defiant however, pledging to continue with their plans to hold the referendum.

Catalonia, which is roughly the size of Belgium and accounts for about one-fifth of Spain's economic output, already has significant powers over matters such as education and healthcare.

Opinion polls show that Catalans are evenly divided on independence.

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