More than 700 mayors from across Spain’s autonomous Catalonia region have gathered in Barcelona to confirm their support for an October 1 independence referendum that the central government has declared illegal.
The defiant move came on Saturday as Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy called for a return to “rationality and legality” and promised to block the vote.
“The only thing I ask of [Catalan] mayors is that they comply with the law, and as such don’t participate in an illegal referendum,” he said.
The mayors on Saturday met Catalonia’s regional head Carles Puigdemont in a show of defiance, following Spanish prosecutors warning earlier this week that officials engaging in any preparations for the vote could be charged with civil disobedience, abuse of office and misuse of public funds.
On Wednesday, Spanish prosecutors summoned for questioning more than 700 mayors who had said they would allow municipal spaces to be used for voting.
If the mayors do not respond to the order, police should arrest them, the order said.
‘We will vote’
Meeting in downtown Barcelona in front of hundreds of flag-waving pro-independence protesters, the mayors gave speeches in which they promised continued support for the referendum amid chants of “we will vote” and “independence”.
Barcelona mayor Ada Colau, who has reached an agreement with the Catalan regional government to allow voting in the city, criticised Madrid’s response to the crisis in a short speech in the city hall.
“It’s a disgrace that we have a government that is incapable of dialogue and instead dedicates itself to pursuing and intimidating mayors and the media,” Colau said.
So far, 740 of 948 municipal leaders have said they would allow municipal spaces to be used for the referendum, according to the Association for Municipalities of Independence (AMI).
Spanish police have raided several print shops and newspaper offices in recent days in a hunt for voting papers, ballot boxes and leaflets to be used for the referendum.
Catalonia’s top court on Friday issued a warning to seven newspapers not to publish campaign notices for the referendum, a court spokesperson said.
Polls show a minority of Catalans want independence, although a majority want the chance to vote on the issue.