SPANISH Guardia Civil officers swooped on Catalan government offices and arrested 14 senior officials as the national government intensified efforts to stop the upcoming independence referendum.
The move drew a furious reaction from regional president, Carles Puigdemont, who issued a televised address in which he claimed that “the Spanish government has crossed the red line separating it from authoritarian regimes and has become a democratic disgrace,” describing the raids as “a co-ordinated police assault.”
But he insisted the vote would go ahead on October 1, even if it has to be improvised.
Almost 10 million ballot papers were also seized during the operation which saw 42 premises searched as tensions between Cataluña and Madrid continue to escalate.
Among those held were Josep Maria Jove, secretary general of economic affairs, and Lluis Salvado, secretary of taxation.
The crackdown sparked outrage in Barcelona, with thousands of demonstrators pouring onto the city’s streets.
Many gathered outside the raided offices, where chants of “Occupying forces out,” “Fascists!” and “Franco lives again,” could be heard.
Others banged balcony railings and skips while drivers honked their disapproval as surveillance helicopters flew overhead.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy called on Cataluña to “stop this escalation of radicalism and disobedience once and for all,” in his response, which was also televised.
“Don’t go ahead. Go back to the law and democracy. This referendum is a chimera,” he added.
The national government insists that any poll on Catalan independence would contravene the 1978 constitution which states that Spain cannot be divided.
Spain’s Constitutional Court is currently investigating whether a referendum law recently passed by the Catalan parliament breaches the terms of the constitution.
The raids come in the wake of last week’s announcement that thousands of extra Guardia Civil officers have been dispatched to the region.
Ballot papers seized by Guardia Civil ©Guardia Civil