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Spanish Police Detain Catalan Politicians Ahead Of Independence Vote

A person holds up a ballot during a protest in front of the Economy headquarters of Catalonia's regional government in Barcelona on Wednesday, during street protests against raids by Spanish police. The region plans to hold a referendum on independence on Oct. 1, over the objections of Madrid.

Early Wednesday, Spanish police raided government offices in Catalonia and detained at least a dozen separatist leaders — just 10 days before a planned referendum vote on Catalonian independence.

Catalonia, a region in northeast Spain, has its own language and culture. Separatists have long advocated for independence; a vote in 2014 overwhelmingly supported splitting away from Spain, although turnout was low.

Madrid did not recognize that vote, calling it illegal — and considers the upcoming referendum, slated for Oct. 1, to be equally unconstitutional.

According to El Pais, the Spanish Civil Guard raided multiple Catalan government offices, including the headquarters of the region's departments of Economy; Foreign Affairs; and Labor, Social Affairs and Families. The government arrested 14 people, the newspaper reports, and "among the detained, there are high-ranking officials" from the Catalan government, including the region's secretary of the economy and secretary of the treasury.

In the wake of the Spanish raids, the regional president of Catalonia was holding an emergency Cabinet meeting, NPR's Lauren Frayer reports from Madrid.

Spanish Civil Guards have already confiscated ballots and told police to block voting stations, Lauren says. Now that they've also detained elected officials, tensions are rising:

"Riots broke out on Barcelona's Ramblas street, outside a government building raided by Spanish Civil Guards.

" 'We will vote!' people chanted.

"Asked about the raids, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy told reporters, 'I'm sorry, I hope we don't continue this dynamic. But they must abide by the law.' "

On Wednesday, Catalan President Carles Puigdemont urged residents in the region to turn out for the Oct. 1 vote.

"We condemn and reject the anti-democratic and totalitarian actions of the Spanish state," he said, according to Reuters.

"Let's resist peacefully," the president of the Catalan National Assembly tweeted. "He did not have to wait long," the BBC reports. It adds:

"The centre of Barcelona soon became a sea of Catalan flags and the city's renowned football club threw its weight behind the protests, condemning any act that threatened freedom of speech and self-determination."

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

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