Echoes of Franco dictatorship in Spain's 'political repression' of Catalonia, say academics

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Supporters of an independence referendum in Catalonia have begun occupying polling stations in a bid to ensure Sunday's vote goes ahead, as thousands gathered in Barcelona for the separatist camp's final rally.

The Spanish government says the referendum on independence for the northeastern region is unconstitutional and the country's Constitutional Court has suspended the vote so it could consider the matter.

Organizers said around 100,000 Barcelona residents took part in the mass demonstration on Friday evening amid attempts by the central Madrid government to disrupt the independence referendum, which it views as illegal.

Dr James Summers is a Professor of International Law at Lancaster University.

Spain has taken over Catalonia's budget to prevent spending and police have been ordered to block or close public buildings where the vote is meant to be held on Sunday.

Catalans who spoke to CNN in Barcelona stressed that they want the freedom to exercise their democratic right to hold a vote, whatever the outcome.

Joaquin Forn said officials are determined to proceed with Sunday's vote, even though Spain's government says it is illegal and can not happen. The central government in Madrid has vowed to stop the vote, which it says is a violation of the constitution.

"I am going to sleep here, with my oldest son who is a student here", Gisela Losa, a mother of three, told AFP at Reina Vionant primary school in Barcelona's fashionable Gracia neighbourhood, where pro-independence sentiment runs high.

Officers have also been seizing items such as ballot papers, while prosecutors have ordered the closure of websites linked to the vote and the arrest of officials organising the referendum. The EU said Catalonia would be forced out of the bloc and have to reapply to join if it leaves Spain.

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Catalan leaders have finally revealed the ballot boxes they plan to use.

While the vote hasn't inspired mass public rallies or viral social media campaigns outside of Spain, it did prompt small demonstrations in Scotland, where many dream of obtaining independence from the United Kingdom.

"I think it's important to talk on a political level after Monday and to respect laws - Catalan laws and Spanish laws", Tajani told reporters Friday.

The warning comes after a dozen Catalan officials were detained for two days last week.

The Catalan government had not yet made clear how it would respond if the plebiscite results in a "yes" vote.

Secession-leaning figures in Belgium's Flanders region see hope in Sunday's vote and sympathize with prosperous Catalonia's complaints that it subsidizes poorer regions of Spain.

Catalonia's regional police force, the Mossos d'Esquadra, has warned of the risk of "the disruption of public order" if officers try to prevent people from casting ballots.

On Saturday, Spanish police also raided the Catalan government's telecommunications and information technology center, according to La Vanguardia citing RAC1 radio station.

Catalonia, a region in north-eastern Spain, houses a population of 7.5 million people. "The government, as it is obliged to do, will defend the constitutional unity of Spain and liberal democracy from those who elude democratic control", said Spanish government spokesman Inigo Mendez de Vigo in a press conference on Friday.

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