Supporters of an independence referendum in Catalonia have begun occupying polling stations in a bid to ensure Sunday’s vote goes ahead, stoking fears of violent confrontation with Spanish police.
According reports gathered by Reuters, Spain’s central government in Madrid, which opposes the referendum, has sent thousands of police reinforcements to the Catalonian capital of Barcelona to stop people from voting.
A court on Wednesday ordered police to prevent the use of public buildings “for the preparation and organisation” of the referendum.
But as classes ended for the day, small groups of activists, including parents with their children, on Friday peacefully occupied several schools where voting is scheduled to take place.
“We want to make sure the school is open for activities and at night when they might come to clear us out or empty it, there will be families sleeping or people in the street,” Hector, 43, told Reuters news agency.
The head of the Catalan regional police has ordered officers to evacuate and close polling stations by 6am on Sunday, before voting starts at 9am.
Parents vowed to come out and protect their children occupying the schools.
“I am going to sleep here with my oldest son who is a student here,” Gisela Losa, a mother of three, told AFP news agency at Reina Vionant primary school in Barcelona’s Gracia neighbourhood.
Spain’s government said on Saturday police had sealed off 1,300 of 2,315 schools in Catalonia that had been designated as polling stations for the banned independence referendum.
A government source said 163 schools earmarked as voting centres have been occupied by families.