BARCELONAÂ âÂ Shopkeeper Esther Royo wasnât planning to voteÂ in Cataloniaâs controversial independence referendum Sunday until the Spanish government threatened to block it as illegal.
Now Royo, 32, is determined to cast her ballot, though she won’t say if she favors breaking away from Spain.Â âIâm going to vote because they want to take it away,â she said.Â âI have the moral right.â
TheÂ central government inÂ MadridÂ has seizedÂ millions of ballots, detainedÂ 14 senior officials organizing the vote, shutÂ down election websites and deployedÂ thousands of police to bar access to voting stations.Â Â
The Interior Ministry has sent an additional 10,000 riotÂ police and other officers to Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, one of 17 semi-autonomous regions.
âThis referendum now cannot happen. It was never legal,â said Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.Â
In defiance, Carles Puigdemont,Â president of Catalonia, vowed to push ahead with Sunday’s vote and declare independence from Spain within 48 hours if the pro-independence vote prevails.Â
“As president, I have the right to call a referendum based on a law that the Catalan parliament has approved. The vote will go ahead,”Â Puigdemont, 54, said in a phone interview with USA TODAY.Â
Three years ago, around 80%Â of the electorate backed independence but only 42%Â of Cataloniaâs 5.4 million voters turned out, according to government statistics.
Today, Catalans are split over seceding. A recent poll by digital publication El EspaÃ±ol put support for independence as…