REFERENDUM LATEST: Thousands take to streets across Spain as Catalan police mobilise

YEARLY TRADITION: Torrevieja chosen for the Pledge the Flag ceremony Photo credit: Torrevieja town hall

DEMONSTRATIONS are breaking out across Spain as tensions reach boiling point a day ahead of Cataluña’s controversial independence referendum.

The rallies come as Mossos d’Esquadra chief Josep Lluis Trapero ordered his forces to shut down polling stations in a peaceful manner and without responding to “passive disobedience.”

His Catalan police have already moved to seal off 1,300 of the 2,315 schools to be used.

The remainder must be closed and emptied of people by 6am on Sunday, with at least 163 still occupied by protesting families.

And thousands of people have taken to the streets in major cities including Zaragoza, Alicante, Valencia, Palma de Mallorca, Sevilla and Madrid in opposition to the actions of the divided region and its president, Carles Puigdemont, many waving Spanish flags and demanding his arrest.

But in Santiago de Compostella, Galicia, the crowd could be heard chanting “Galicia and Cataluña, solidarity,” and “Spanish state, political state.”

In Catalan capital Barcelona a final pro-independence rally was attended by tens of thousands, as the Guardia Civil swooped to occupy the regional government’s telecommmunications and internet hub, disabling electronic voting points and the planned counting system.

The move led Spanish government spokesman Iñigo Mendez de Vigo to declare the referendum “annulled.”

But Puigdemont remains convinced that the referendum, which he has billed as binding, will go ahead.

“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 said.

On Friday hundreds of tractors rolled into towns including Girona and Tarragona to park in front of polling stations, while Cataluña’s high court ordered Google to remove the On Votar 1-Oct app from its online store.

Several million Catalans are expected to try to vote in Sunday’s poll despite it being banned by the Spanish Constitutional Court and polarising public opinion across the country, including within the region itself.

It remains unclear how the day will pan out, with many predicting violence after thousands of extra police officers were sent to help stop the vote from taking place.

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