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Neither side backing down ahead of Catalan referendum

Neither side backing down ahead of Catalan referendum”

Tens of thousands of secessionist Catalans have taken to the streets in Barcelona to promote the "Yes" campaign in their final rally ahead of the controversial referendum on independence from mainland Spain.

There is no electoral census, the board set up to oversee the vote has been dissolved, and parties against independence have called on their followers to boycott Sunday's vote.

Spanish unionists argue Catalonia already enjoys broad autonomy within Spain, along with other regions like the Basque Country and Galicia.

But Carles Puigdemont, the head of the Catalan regional government, has said the referendum will go ahead.

The central government said airspace above the city would be partly restricted.

"We will vote! We will vote!" farmers chanted.

But Jordi Sanchez, the president of the Catalan National Assembly, an influential pro-independence organisation, told AFP the court order said public spaces could not be used for the referendum on Sunday "but it did not say anything about leisure activities today and Saturday".

In one of the biggest crises to hit Spain since democracy was restored after the death of Franco in 1975, the referendum has pitched the wealthy northeastern region against the central government and sown divisions among Catalans themselves.

"In the case of independence, Catalan teams in La Liga - Barcelona, Espanyol and Girona - will have to decide where they want to play - in the Spanish league or a neighbouring country like Italy, France or the Premier League, ' said Catalonia's minister of sport, Gerard Figueras".

Spain's government cabinet spokesman says there will not be a referendum on Catalonia's independence on Sunday as announced by the regional Catalan government.

European Parliament President Antonio Tajani said at an EU summit in Estonia on Friday that the dispute is "a Spanish problem in which we can do little".

Catalan authorities previously had appealed to the European Union for help, saying the Spanish government undermined their democratic values.

"I think it's important to talk on a political level" after the vote, he added.

The EU has said Catalonia will be ejected from the bloc, if it declares independence.

Spanish police have arrested Catalan officials who were involved in organizing the October 1 vote and they also seized electoral material, including ballot papers and ballot boxes.

The government is seizing ballot boxes, raiding Catalan government offices, arresting Catalan officials and sending thousands of extra police officers to the region.

"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", he told Reuters.



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