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In Catalonia, Thousands Protest Spanish Attempts To Stop Referendum Vote

People hold Catalan pro-independence flags outside the high court in Barcelona, Spain, on Thursday. After a daylong protest that lasted well into the night, several thousand independence supporters gathered again in front of the high court in what influential separatist organizations said would be a "permanent mobilization" until detained Catalan officials are freed.

Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets in Barcelona, protesting the Spanish government and expressing support for a planned Oct. 1 vote on Catalan independence.

Spain considers the referendum to be illegal. On Wednesday, Spanish police with court-ordered search warrants seized millions of ballots and detained more than a dozen Catalan politicians. A top treasury official is being held on sedition charges, the BBC reports.

Demonstrations against the police action have been roiling ever since, as NPR's Lauren Frayer reports from Madrid.

"It started peacefully, with some 40,000 protesters singing the Catalan national anthem outside a government building raided by Spanish Civil Guards. But clashes broke out overnight," she says. "Police cars were vandalized and Civil Guards trapped for hours inside a building.

"Catalan separatists have called for indefinite protests," Frayer reports.

The Associated Press reports:

"Catalan Vice President Oriol Junqueras acknowledged that the crackdown had disrupted the referendum plans. 'It's evident that we won't be able to vote like we have done in the past,' Junqueras told broadcaster TV3.

"Even so, he remained confident there will be a large turnout of Catalans on Oct. 1 — whatever form the vote takes. Pro-independence leaders have insisted the ballot will go ahead despite the obstacles."

The prime minister of Spain has warned Catalonia of "greater harm" if the referendum is carried out, and the Constitutional Court says it will impose daily fines of thousands of euros on individuals helping oversee the vote, the AP writes.

Catalonia, a prosperous region in northeast Spain, has its own language and culture and has been granted some autonomy within Spain. Separatists have long called for complete independence, with the campaign picking up steam over the past few years. In 2014, a symbolic vote (not acknowledged by Madrid) registered overwhelming support for independence, although turnout for the vote was low.

One recent poll found about 41 percent of Catalonians support independence.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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