Everything is ready for independence vote, says Catalan leader

BARCELONA (Reuters) – Catalonia’s leader made clear his government was determined to go ahead with a Sunday vote on independence that Madrid calls illegal and which has thrust Spain into its most dramatic political crisis for decades.

“Everything is prepared at the more than 2,000 voting points so they have ballot boxes and voting slips, and have everything people need to express their opinion,” Carles Puigdemont told Reuters in an interview on Friday.

Spain’s central authorities have sent thousands of police reinforcements to Catalonia to ensure no votes are cast. Regional courts have ordered police to cordon off schools scheduled to be used as ballot stations.

In a bid to keep schools open, parents have called for a region-wide, school sleep-over this weekend, with tents and sleeping bags, free paella and cinema. Organizers said 60,000 had already registered to participate.

Separatists have called on people to turn out at the polling stations in a mass statement of “peaceful resistance”, even if they are prevented from voting.

Catalan President Carles Puigdemont gestures during an interview with Reuters at the Palau de la Generalitat, the regional government headquarters, ahead of the banned October 1 independence referendum, in Barcelona, Spain September 29, 2017. REUTERS/Jon Nazca

“I don’t believe there will be anyone who will use violence or who will want to provoke violence that will tarnish the irreproachable image of the Catalan independence movement as pacifist,” Puigdemont said.

Hundreds of thousands of Catalans have taken to the streets in recent weeks to protest Madrid’s campaign to suppress the vote. Police have confiscated thousands of voting slips, and courts have fined and threatened to arrest regional officials.

In a sign that large crowds are again expected on the streets on Sunday, department store chain El Corte Ingles said it would shut three stores in central Barcelona. The central government said airspace above the…

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