Catalonia referendum defies Spanish obstruction

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Media captionStudents have declared a pro-independence “strike”

A nation, a Spanish region, an aspiring independent state: however you define it, Catalonia has become a byword in Spain for controversy and political conflict.

Now, the deadlock between Catalonia’s devolved government, which wants independence, and Spain’s central government, which has always ruled out a vote on the issue, has reached a critical moment.

There is the surreal.

Tweetie Pie, the yellow Warner Bros cartoon bird known here as Piolín, adorns a cruise ship parked in Barcelona port. There are no tourists on board the huge floating hotel, just thousands of national Spanish police.

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This ship, decorated bizarrely with cartoon character Tweetie Pie, is one of three chartered to house extra Spanish police

But there is an underlying and deadly serious message, too.

The boat’s occupants are the guardians of Spanish territorial integrity. No-one questions where their loyalties lie.

Then there is the confusing.

Catalonia’s government, or Generalitat as it is known locally, promises the vote will happen. However, a proper election campaign has been strikingly absent.

With children back at home for the weekend will schools quickly turn into voting stations, or will they remain closed?

And there is the downright baffling.

Catalonia’s own police force, Mossos d’Esquadra, in theory should – if they follow the letter of Spanish law – work alongside national Spanish police and stop the vote from happening.

But it is the Mossos’ colleagues and friends at the Generalitat who are keeping the pro-independence dream of a referendum alive.

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