Catalan referendum: Activists occupy school ahead of vote

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Pro-independence activists have occupied designated polling stations

More than 160 schools in Catalonia have been occupied by activists trying to keep them open ahead of the region’s banned independence referendum, Spain’s central government says.

Police visited 1,300 of the 2,315 schools in Catalonia designated as polling stations, finding 163 occupied.

Tens of thousands of people are expected to attempt to vote on Sunday.

Demonstrators also rallied in Barcelona on Saturday evening against the poll, calling instead for unity with Spain.

Waving Spanish flags and carrying banners reading “Catalonia is Spain”, thousands marched on the town hall.

Meanwhile, Spanish authorities are stepping up their attempts to stop the ballot taking place.

Authorities in Madrid have sent thousands of police to the region to stop the referendum – declared illegal by Spain’s constitutional court. They are being assisted by the Catalan regional police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra.

Police have now occupied the regional government’s telecommunications centre.

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Media captionTom Burridge reports from one of the designated polling stations for the banned independence referendum

Police have also been ordered to clear schools occupied by activists aiming to ensure the buildings can be used for voting.

Many of those inside the schools are parents and their children, who remained in the buildings after the end of lessons on Friday. Some told Reuters news agency that police had told them they could stay as long as they were not doing anything connected to Sunday’s vote.

Laia, a 41-year-old sociologist who is staying in a Barcelona school this…

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