Fri, Sep 15, 2017 - Page 7 News List

Spain orders probe of 700 mayors over referendum


People play in Catalonia Square in front of a building on which a banner hangs that reads: “Yes. Referendum is democracy,” in Barcelona, Spain, on Wednesday.

Photo: AFP

Spain’s public prosecutor on Wednesday ordered a criminal probe of more than 700 Catalan mayors who are cooperating with an Oct. 1 independence referendum deemed illegal by Madrid.

The move increases the pressure on Catalan officials just one day before the pro-separatist camp officially kicks off its referendum campaign in the Mediterranean port of Tarragona.

Furious at the decision to instigate a probe, Catalan municipal associations called on all the region’s mayors to protest in Barcelona tomorrow to show their “rejection of a Spanish judicial system that goes after the media, ballot papers, ballot boxes ... and now mayors.”

The prosecutors’ office ordered the mayors who have agreed to help stage the vote to be summoned to court as official suspects, and if they do not appear to “order their arrest,” a copy of the ruling obtained by reporters showed.

Pro-independence Catalan President Carles Puigdemont dubbed the move an “atrocity scarcely worthy of a democracy,” and said he would attend tomorrow’s protest.

Catalonia’s pro-separatist government has asked the wealthy northeastern region’s 948 mayors to provide facilities for polling stations for the vote.

A total of 712 mostly smaller municipalities have agreed to host the vote, according to a list posted on the Web site of Catalonia’s Association of Municipalities for Independence, which represents 750 municipalities.

“They can arrest us! They’re crazy,” David Rovira, the pro-separatist mayor of L’Espluga de Francoli, a town of about 3,800 residents, told reporters by telephone, adding that Madrid had “proposed nothing” to appease Catalonia’s demands for greater autonomy.

Catalan government spokesman Jordi Turull told reporters that the executive branch would support the region’s mayors and would “respect their decision.”

The ruling came one day after prosecutors ordered police in Catalonia to seize ballot boxes, election flyers and any other item that could be used in the referendum.

Prosecutors have already launched an official complaint against Puigdemont and members of his government over their referendum plans, accusing them of civil disobedience, malfeasance and misappropriation of public funds — the latter carrying jail sentences of up to eight years.

On Wednesday, the official referendum Web site was shut down following a court order, the Spanish Civil Guard said, prompting Puigdemont to immediately post the address of a new Web site on Twitter.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s conservative government has vowed to do everything in its power to stop the referendum.

It has argued that Spain’s 1978 constitution stipulates that regional governments cannot call an independence referendum.

Rajoy on Wednesday urged Catalans to boycott the referendum.

“If anyone urges you to go to a polling station, don’t go, because the referendum can’t take place, it would be an absolutely illegal act,” he said.

The Spanish Constitutional Court has suspended a referendum law that was fast-tracked through Catalonia’s regional parliament last week, but the Catalan government has vowed to go ahead with the vote nonetheless.

Catalan authorities routinely ignore the court’s decisions, as they do not recognize its legitimacy.

In his first public comments since the Catalan government signed a decree calling for the referendum, Spanish King Felipe VI said the rights of all Spaniards will be upheld against “whoever steps outside constitutional and statutory law.”

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