Catalonia independence referendum: 'NO violence' Voters warned to behave

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Spanish police have occupied the Catalan government's communications hub on the eve of a banned independence referendum which Madrid is attempting to thwart, the regional authority said on Saturday.

Teachers, parents, students and activists in this wealthy northeastern region have leapt into action to defend the vote slated for Sunday, defying Madrid's warnings of repercussions by occupying more than 160 schools designated as polling stations, it said.

Puigdemont reiterated his call on the Spanish government to negotiate over holding a legal, binding referendum, and again promised to call the entire vote off if the state agreed.

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

Officials with the central government said police had secured 1,300 of 2,315 schools in Catalonia used as polling stations.

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.

Parents in some of the occupied schools said police officers had told them they could stay as long as they were not doing anything connected with the referendum.

Spain's foreign minister dismissed the planned vote as anti-democratic, saying it runs "counter to the goals and ideals" of the European Union.

"I insist that there will be no referendum on October 1", government spokesman Inigo Mendez de Vigo said, adding that organisers would face criminal charges for trying to hold it. Pro- and anti-independence protests also unfolded this week in Madrid and other cities.

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The vote has been suspended by Spain's Constitutional Court and police have received orders to stop ballots from being cast on Sunday.

Despite tensions behind the scenes, most European leaders are shying away from taking a public stand on Catalonia. "We have reached a point of no return", said Cepeda, a Spanish flag tied around the waist. Morales and his wife were among thousands protesting the independence referendum. In another regional election, Catalonia's pro-independence parties narrowly win the most seats.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has moved thousands of national police and Guardia Civil militia into Catalonia to stop the plebiscite.

With a population of 7.5 million inhabitants, Catalonia contributes a fifth of Spain's 1.1 trillion-euro ($1.32 trillion) economy.

Despite pressure from the national authorities and La Liga officials, a lot of Catalan sportsmen, including Pep Guardiola, are in favour of the vote for independence.

Catalan separatists vowed Saturday to ignore a police ultimatum to leave the schools they are occupying to use in a vote seeking independence from Spain. While the overwhelming majority of Catalans want to have a referendum on sovereignty, many more of them favor remaining part of Spain rather than becoming independent. Mounting police threats are having no effect, and people are already queuing up at the polling stations days ahead of schedule.

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.

"We are asking for tractors to be parked peacefully near polling stations and, if they try to close them, impede them or make it as hard as possible", a member of one farmers' group, Gerard Batalla, told AFP news agency earlier this week.