Catalan independence campaigners have held rallies across the region, distributing 1m ballot papers a week before people are due to vote in a sovereignty referendum that the Spanish government has vowed to stop. Thousands of people congregated in town squares around Catalonia on Sunday to show their support for the vote as tensions between the pro-independence regional government and the Spanish state continued to rise. Speaking at a rally in Barcelona, the president of the independence group Òmnium Cultural, Jordi Cuixart, said: “Here are the packs of ballots that we ask you to hand out across Catalonia.” Carme Forcadell, the speaker of the regional parliament, told a Barcelona crowd: “I ask you to go out and vote! Vote for the future of Catalonia!”
The distribution of voting slips comes days after Spanish Guardia Civil officers raided regional government buildings, arrested 14 senior Catalan officials and seized almost 10m ballot papers.
The Spanish government has also drafted in thousands more police officers and tightened its control over the region’s funding, while the constitutional court has announced that 24 referendum organisers will be fined between €6,000 and €12,000 (£5,300-£10,600) a day until they abandon preparations for the vote.
The raids and arrests brought 40,000 people on to the streets of Barcelona in protest on Wednesday night. Although the demonstrations were largely peaceful, there were scuffles and two Guardia Civil vehicles were attacked. A chief prosecutor later asked the national court to consider investigating the demonstrators for sedition.