THE standoff between the Spanish and Catalonian governments over plans for an independence referendum ramped up again yesterday as Madrid confirmed it has shipped in forces from across the country “to help the Catalan police maintain order.”
The comment confirms rumours which had been flying around on Thursday that angry protests over Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s hamfisted intervention against Catalonia’s October 1 referendum had spooked Madrid into using officers from elsewhere to crush potential disorder.
Local police have reportedly been reluctant to crack down on the rallies in the regional capital of Barcelona which erupted after the Spanish government confiscated 10 million ballot papers and arrested 14 Catalan government officials.
Thousands of pro-independence protesters have taken to the streets with many camping out near the judiciary building.
Hundreds more rallied outside a court in the north-eastern Catalan town of Hospitalet de Llobregat, where six officials had been detained.
Union workers at Barcelona’s Prince of Spain and Lepanto docks were the first to spot Mr Rajoy’s power move, as three huge ferries capable of carrying an estimated 4,000 police sailed into port on Wednesday, releasing riot vans emblazoned with the national police logo. Other reports spoke of assets being brought in by train as Mr Rajoy looked to bolster loyalist forces.
The Catalan National Assembly civic group has called for the protests to continue until the regional officials are released — their first hearings were due to be held yesterday.
Spain’s conservative Peoples’ Party government says the planned referendum is illegal and violates Spain’s constitution.