Clash over Catalan vote heats up in Spain as police swoop in

A crowd of protestors gather outside the Catalan region's economy ministry building in Barcelona, Spain, Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017. The Catalan regional government says that a top official in the management of the region's economic affairs has been arrested as a crackdown intensifies on preparations for a secession vote that Spanish authorities have suspended. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
Manu Fernandez/Associated Press
A crowd of protestors gather outside the Catalan region's economy ministry building in Barcelona on Wednesday.

MADRID — Thousands of people supporting a contested referendum to split Catalonia from Spain took to Barcelona’s streets amid an intensifying government crackdown on the independence vote that included the arrests of a dozen regional officials Wednesday and the seizure of 10 million ballot papers.

The arrests — the first involving Catalan officials since the campaign to hold an independence vote began in earnest in 2011 — prompted a pro-independence coalition of Catalan political parties and civic organizations to say casting a ballot was as much about dignity as whether to break away from Spain.

Regional government officials, including Catalonia’s president, so far have vowed to ignore a Constitutional Court order to suspend the Oct. 1 referendum while judges assess its legality. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said Wednesday that because the Catalan government is violating the Spanish Constitution, ‘‘logically, the state has to act.’’


‘‘No democratic state in the world would accept what these people are proposing,’’ Rajoy said.

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Catalan nationalists argue that self-determination is an inalienable right that can’t be curbed by any constitution. The prime minister’s determination to prevent the ballot has backing from most Spanish opposition parties.

Some members of Rajoy’s conservative government have even referred to the standoff as democratic Spain’s greatest political crisis since 1981, a failed coup attempt in the country’s parliament that came only three years after the official end of General Francisco Franco’s dictatorship.