Spain will deploy police reinforcements to Catalonia to help maintain order if an independence referendum pledged by Catalan officials but opposed by the national government goes ahead, officials said Friday.
The measure came amid rising tension between Spanish and Catalan authorities over the planned Oct. 1 ballot.
Civil Guard police this week arrested around a dozen regional government officials and seized about 10 million ballot papers. Authorities in the wealthy northeastern region insist the vote will take place, even though Spain’s Constitutional Court has ordered it to be suspended and the Madrid-based national government insists it is illegal.
An Interior Ministry statement said the extra agents would provide backing for the Catalan regional police, who are also under orders to prevent the staging of the referendum.
The statement said the Catalan Interior Ministry had been informed. It did not say how many extra police would be sent. Three ferries docked at Barcelona’s port will provide accommodation for the extra officers.
Also Friday, a Catalan regional judge ordered the release with restrictions of six people arrested Wednesday in a crackdown on referendum preparations. A statement said the six declined to testify.
They remain under investigation for disobedience, abuse of power and embezzlement in relation to the planned ballot and must appear before the court each week.
Hundreds of pro-independence supporters had protested outside the courthouse to demand the officials’ release.
The protest in the northeastern Catalan town of Hospitalet de Llobregat was an extension of another started Thursday outside the Catalan judiciary headquarters in nearby Barcelona that attracted thousands. A pro-independence group says that about 2,500 supporters were attending the protest in Hospitalet.
“I feel the way people used to feel during Franco regime. Nothing less. Because Francoism is still alive,” said protester Josep Selva, referring to Gen. Francisco Franco’s military regime that ruled Spain between 1939 and 1978, three years after his death.
“The political reform of 1978 only legalized Francoism and disguised it as democracy,” he said.
Many of the demonstrators in Barcelona had slept overnight near the judiciary building in tents, sleeping bags or hammocks strung up between lampposts.
Meanwhile, around 2,000 students gathered around and inside one of Barcelona’s main universities calling for an end to the national government’s crackdown. They carried pro-independence flags and banners supporting the ballot. They occupied a central cloister near the offices of the dean and other university officials. Student union representatives urged the protesters to remain over the weekend.
Spain’s central government says the planned referendum violates Spain’s constitution. The Constitutional Court has ordered it suspended while it studies its legality.
Catalonia represents a fifth of Spain’s 1.1-trillion-euro ($1.32 trillion) economy and enjoys wide self-government. The region has about 5.5 million eligible voters. Polls consistently show the region’s inhabitants favor holding a referendum but are roughly evenly divided over independence from Spain.