Wednesday, 07 June 2023 02:29 GMT

Police row erupts in Catalonia

(MENAFN- Gulf Times) Catalonia's executive has accused Madrid of taking control of its regional police force after prosecutors tasked the interior ministry with co-ordinating all operations aimed at stopping an outlawed independence referendum.
The row is likely to further raise tensions between the central government and Catalonia, a northeast region divided over independence with its separatist leaders seeking to hold a vote on October 1 despite Madrid's refusal and a court ban.
Yesterday morning, Catalonia's chief prosecutor told the heads of the national police, Guardia Civil force and Mossos d'Esquadra the regional squad that the interior ministry would co-ordinate operations 'in light of what happened last week, a spokesman at the ministry said.
Barcelona was rocked by protests on Wednesday as thousands took to the streets when key members of the team organising the vote were detained, and six of them were subsequently put under investigation for disobedience, embezzlement of public funds and malfeasance.
The Catalan government, however, said in a statement that it did not 'accept the interior ministry taking command of the Mossos d'Esquadra.
Joaquim Forn, the region's interior minister whose department manages the Mossos, tweeted that they were looking into taking legal action against 'this interference from the state.
The interior ministry in Madrid retorted that it was not taking any power away from the Mossos.
The spokesman pointed out that the same process had been implemented in aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils last month, with the Mossos tasked with co-ordinating operations at that time.
Unions at the Mossos reacted angrily.
The SAP union said the Security Board of Catalonia, which it says is responsible for co-ordinating police forces in the region, had not been convened to discuss the matter and slammed the decision as 'political.
Madrid has used the legal arsenal at its disposal to stop the Catalonia vote.
But Catalan leaders say they are still determined to see the referendum through even if they recognise their plans have been seriously hindered.
Prosecutors are pushing for possible sedition charges against leaders of protests in Barcelona on Wednesday.
Madrid has tightened control over the region's finances and the Constitutional Court fined 24 referendum organisers between €6,000 to €12,000 ($7,200 to $14,300) a day until they stopped.
These included members of an electoral board set up for the referendum which was subsequently hastily dissolved by the regional government to avoid paying the fines.
And police have seized close to 10mn ballot papers destined for the vote.
All the measures have damaged separatist plans to conduct a referendum with a semblance of legitimacy, even if it was never going to be recognised by Madrid.
Still, yesterday Catalonia's President Carles Puigdemont posted another link to a website that lists places where Catalans will be able to vote, after others were taken down.
On the streets of Barcelona, meanwhile, protests had dwindled.
Several dozen students were still rallying in a University of Barcelona building in the city centre, but other street gatherings had dissolved.
Polls show Catalans are divided on whether they want independence or not, with the latest survey in July showing 49.4% against and 41.1% in favour.
Despite the divisions, a large majority of Catalans want to vote in a legitimate referendum to settle the matter.


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