Mariano Rajoy says region must stop escalating independence standoff after thousands protest at police raids government buildings in Barcelona
Spains prime minister has called on Catalan separatist leaders to end their escalation as several thousand people took to the streets of Barcelona to protest at Madrids attempts to stop a banned referendum on independence.
Stop this escalation of radicalism and disobedience once and for all, Mariano Rajoy said in a televised statement on Wednesday night as protesters remained in the centre of the city after a day-long demonstration.
Catalonias president earlier accused the Spanish government of suspending the regions autonomy after police intensified efforts to stop a vote on independence that has sparked one of the worst political crises since Spains return to democracy four decades ago.
Spanish Guardia Civil officers raided a dozen Catalan regional government offices and arrested 14 senior officials on Wednesday as part of an operation to stop the referendum from taking place on 1 October.
Carles Puigdemont, the head of Catalonias pro-sovereignty government, described the raids as a a co-ordinated police assault that showed that Madrid has de facto suspended self-government and applied a de facto state of emergency in Catalonia.
He also appeared to draw a parallel between the raids and the repression and abuses of the Franco dictatorship, tweeting: We will not accept a return to the darkest times. The government is in favour of liberty and democracy.
Speaking after an emergency ministerial meeting, Puigdemont vowed the poll would go ahead.
We reaffirm our peaceful response, he said. The Spanish government has crossed a red line and become a democratic disgrace.
The mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, called the raids a democratic scandal and said Catalans would defend their institutions.
Tensions between Madrid and Barcelona have escalated rapidly over recent days as the government of the Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, attempts to make good its promise to stop the vote.
On Wednesday morning, Spains interior ministry announced it was cancelling leave for all the Guardia Civil and national police officers tasked with preventing the referendum. In a statement, it said the affected officers would have to be available between 20 September and 5 October, but added the period could be extended if necessary.
in his TV address, Rajoy called on Catalonias regional leaders to cancel the referendum on the grounds that it goes against Spains laws. Dont go ahead. Go back to the law and democracy. This referendum is a chimera, he said.