BARCELONA (Reuters) – Spanish police monitored schools earmarked as polling stations and occupied the Catalan government’s communications hub on Saturday in an effort to prevent a banned independence referendum which has divided Spain.
Hundreds of supporters of the referendum spent the night in schools with their children and say they plan to remain there until Sunday to keep them open for voters.
A Spanish government source said more than half the schools had been closed off and police would remove people who attempted to vote on Sunday. Less than a tenth of schools were occupied by parents, the source said.
Tens of thousands of Catalans are expected to attempt to vote on Sunday in a ballot that will have no legal status as it has been blocked by Spain’s Constitutional Court and Madrid for being at odds with the 1978 constitution.
Catalonia is a wealthy region within Spain with its own language and culture. Should the vote take place, a “yes” vote is likely, given that most of the 40 percent of Catalans who polls show support independence are expected to cast ballots while most of those against it are not.
Parents in some of the occupied schools said police officers had told them they could stay as long as they were not doing anything connected with the referendum.
“The police have been four times,” said Laia, a 41-year-old sociologist at a school in central Barcelona where around 100 children were playing and 80 people were planning to stay the night while neighbors brought food.
“They read us out the part of the court order that says no activities related to the preparation of the banned referendum are allowed.”
The Catalan police, or Mossos d‘Esquadra, who are monitoring the schools, are held in great affection by the Catalan people, especially after Islamist attacks in the region in August that killed 16.
Madrid has sent thousands more police to the region in the northeast of Spain to enforce a court order banning the referendum, many of…