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Catalonia and Madrid continue to trade jibes ahead of independence referendum

The President of the government of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, center, walks with a number of mayors under investigation, outside the Generalitat Palace, to protest against the ruling of the constitutional court ahead of a planned independence referendum in the Catalonia region, in Barcelona, Spain, Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

Politicians in Catalonia insisted Sunday's independence referendum would go ahead with the majority of eligible voters taking part as Spain's national government continued to shun the poll.

Madrid's culture minister Iñigo Mendez de Vigo, acting as spokesman for Spain's cabinet, accuses the secessionist coalition ruling the northeastern region of bending the laws to go ahead with a vote regardless of warnings from courts and a suspension by the country's Constitutional Court earlier this month.

Catalan authorities say they will declare independence within 48 hours after announcing the vote's results if the yes side wins.
The Spanish government has fought the referendum with a myriad of legal actions criticised by many in Catalonia.

"The government has a constitutional mandate to enforce the laws maintaining civic order," Mr Mendez de Vigo said on Friday during a regular weekly press briefing.

"Nobody is above the laws and whoever violates them will face consequences."

However, Catalonia's vice-president said more than six out of 10 voters are expected to take part in the poll despite the crackdown from Madrid.

Oriol Junqueras said Catalan citizens will be able to vote "even if somebody takes voting stations by assault and tries to avoid something as natural as placing a voting slip in a ballot".

Spain's constitution says only the nation's government can call a referendum on sovereignty.

Police forces acting on judges' orders have seized ballots and arrested regional officials in the crackdown.

Mr Junqueras said an internal poll showed more than 60% of the 5.3 million eligible voters plan to cast ballots.

He displayed a prototype of the plastic ballot boxes planned for more than 2,300 voting stations.

A senior European official, meanwhile, said any moves "should be done in accordance with the constitution of that member state".

European Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans said: "That is the rule of law, you abide by the law and the constitution even if you don't like it."

In Madrid, a Spanish conservative group set up a large, mock ballot box in the centre of the city and urged people to vote whether they want Catalonia to remain part of Spain.

The act in Madrid's emblematic Puerta del Sol square on Friday came in criticism of the secession referendum.

The protest was organised by the Make Yourself Heard group that has previously staged protests against abortion and gay marriage.

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