Spain’s foreign minister has insisted “there is no referendum” in Catalonia, as authorities claimed to have pulled the plug on the vote’s IT systems.
Alfonso Dastis told Sky News there are “no voting premises, no ballot papers… no authorities to check the authenticity of the result”.
However, he admitted there could be “sham voting” in the region, located in Spain’s northeast, where millions could turn out, according to some projections.
Mr Dastis said police would act proportionately on Sunday but that authorities were having to deal with “intimidation and harassment” from vote supporters.
He also hinted of further powers for the region after the attempted referendum: “We’ll certainly try to look at a possible of a better deal,” he told Sky.
Spain’s constitutional court has ruled that the vote is illegal and the government says the process makes a mockery of democracy.
Thousands of extra police have been drafted in from across Spain to try to stop it going ahead.
However, the regional police, the Mossos d’Esquadra, has warned of “disruption of public order” if people are prevented from having their say.
It comes as the most senior Madrid official in the region said more than half of the 2,315 polling stations had been sealed off and the technology allowing people to vote dismantled.
Enric Millo said parents and students were occupying 163 schools in the region and that police had been ordered to clear the buildings by 6am, ahead of the polling stations’ planned 9am opening.
Picnics, yoga sessions and film screenings have been organised through the night at some sites to try to stop police shutting them down.
Mr Millo added that Civil Guard agents had acted on a judge’s orders and disabled the software designed to connect the stations and allow them to share results.
He claimed that after the raid at the CTTI communications and technology centre people would also not be able to apply to vote online.
Catalan leaders remain determined to press on with the vote.
Carles Puigdemont, head of the region’s government, told cheering supporters on Friday evening: “In these hugely intense and hugely emotional moments, we sense that what we once thought was only a dream is within reach.”
Farmers also paraded in their tractors through Barcelona, Catalonia’s main city. Along with firefighters, they have promised to protect polling stations from being shut.
The Telegram messaging service is also reportedly being used by supporters who are forming groups to help “protect the referendum” using non-violent means.
However, anti-independence demonstrations have also taken place, including thousands turning out in Madrid.
Opinion polls show Catalans are split on the issue of independence, but a large majority want to vote in a legitimate referendum to settle the matter.
Catalan officials say they will declare independence within 48 hours after announcing the results if the Yes side wins.
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