Catalonia independence vote: Spain threatens to arrest 700 mayors

Treasury Minister Cristóbal Montoro at a press conference in Madrid

MADRID, Sept 15 (Reuters) - Armed police in Spain have raided several print works and newspaper offices in Catalonia in recent days in a hunt for voting papers, ballot boxes and leaflets to be used in an October 1 independence referendum which Madrid vehemently opposes.

To shield Barcelona's civil servants from possible prosecution, Mayor Ada Colau refused to make municipal premises available as polling places.

Budget Minister Cristobal Montoro said following the weekly cabinet meeting: "These measures are to guarantee that not one euro will go toward financing illegal acts".

Montoro said Spain's central government will take over the payments of essential services and public workers' salaries in the wealthy northeastern region which has significant powers over matters such as education and healthcare.

But Catalonia's pro-independence government has said that the referendum, which is planned for 1 October, will go ahead.

"British companies are wary of any political instability..."

In response to the Spanish government's latest move, the Catalan authorities have urged the region's mayors to take to the streets of Barcelona in protest on Saturday.

They have also criticised what they see as heavy-handed measures by Madrid to stop the vote.

But the overture was roundly rebuffed by the spokesman for the Spanish government, Íñigo Méndez de Vigo, who said Madrid had not received the letter and only learned about it through the press.

"Right now, we have no idea where they are", he said.

Catalonia's governor and the mayor of its biggest city Barcelona appealed to Spain's premier and king on Friday for dialogue to resolve the region's increasingly bitter tussle with Madrid.

The state prosecutor has called for the mayors to be arrested if they fail to comply with the summons.

King Felipe was widely quoted praising Spain's democracy and social harmony at an awards ceremony on Wednesday, saying "the constitution will prevail over any rupture in that".

The signatories also accused the Spanish administration, lead by Mr Rajoy of having gone "on the offensive with unprecedented repression".

Spain's constitutional court suspended the action taken by the regional Parliament of Catalonia law on the procedure of the separation region.

Anti-secession sentiment is being supported at the EU level as well, with European Union officials warning that even if Catalonia did successfully secede, it wouldn't mean they'd become members of the European Union.

Supporters of independence are celebrating already despite surveys indicating less than 50 percent of Catalonia's population want full self-rule.

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