As the Spanish government continued trying to block an independence referendum scheduled to take place Oct. 1 in Catalonia, on Saturday pro-independence voters occupied dozens of schools that had been designated as polling stations, in hopes of evading efforts by police officers to restrict access and stop the vote on Sunday.
A government official told the Associated Press that as of Saturday, parents had camped out with their children in at least 163 schools across the region. The AP reports that police have warned those occupying the schools that they must leave by 6am on Sunday—three hours before the polls are set to open. Despite Spain's moves to prevent voting, Catalonia's regional government plans to open more than 2,000 polling stations on Sunday.
Breakfast in Catalonia- schools stay open for poll - police tell them to leave by 6am pic.twitter.com/bPC6cBN01Q
— Mark Mardell (@BBCMarkMardell) September 30, 2017
The weekend occupations of potential polling stations followed massive protests by tens of thousands of Catalan citizens who have taken to the streets in recent days to express frustration over the Spanish government's attempts to repress the upcoming referendum "by shutting down websites, arresting politicians, seizing millions of ballots, and threatening to block polling stations," as Common Dreams previously reported.
Madrid's crackdown in Catalonia continued on Saturday, as CNN reported:
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On Saturday, Guardia Civil officers raided the Catalan government's telecommunications and information technology center, Joan Maria Piqué, the international communications director for the government of Catalonia, told CNN.
The raid was intended to stop the use of vote-counting software linked to Sunday's referendum, Piqué said, adding that the Catalan government has an alternative to the software. A day earlier, a Spanish court ordered Google to remove a voting location app from its Play Store, claiming it was helping Catalan separatists organize in advance of the vote.
Although Spain's highest court has ruled that the referendum is unconstitutional and authorities have ordered police to keep closing down polling stations and confiscating voting materials, Catalan President Carles Puigdemont still urged the region's 5.3 million registered voters to try to vote on Sunday.
"We are people who have experience with difficulties, and every difficultly makes us stronger," Puigdemont said. "Friends, so that victory is definite, on Sunday, let's dress up in referendum (clothes) and leave home prepared to change history, to end the process and start progress, social progress, economic progress and cultural and national progress."
"Pressure for a vote on self-determination has grown over the past five years as austerity has hit the Spanish economy and people hard," the BBC reports. Catalonia is a wealthy northeastern region in Spain that's home to Barcelona and more than 7 million residents. The region has its own language and culture as well as a notable amount of autonomy from Spain's central government in Madrid, but Catalonia is not recognized as its own nation under the Spanish constitution.