Police in Catalonia gave parents, children and activists a Sunday morning deadline to vacate the schools they are occupying to safeguard the buildings as polling stations for a disputed referendum on the region’s independence from Spain.
Spain’s Constitutional Court suspended the vote more than three weeks ago and police have received orders to stop ballots from being cast on Sunday. Catalonia’s government has pressed ahead anyway and called on the region’s 5.3 million registered voters to make their voices heard.
Parents supporting the referendum organized to camp out throughout the weekend at schools that are among the 2,315 designated voting facilities to keep police from them shutting down.
Quim Roy, a father of two daughters, said officers told the few dozen parents and children at the Congres-Indians primary school in Barcelona on Saturday morning not to display any propaganda in favor of the vote and that they had to vacate the premises by 6.00 a.m. Sunday.
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Yoga sessions, games, film screenings and picnics have been planned at the schools during the day. But Roy said parents have decided to send their children home on Saturday night. He hopes at least a few dozen parents will hold a vigil to keep the school occupied.
“We decided in a meeting that we would send the kids home. Calling them human shields is a huge lie, but I made my decision because there is fear. Who knows what will happen if the Guardia Civil comes,” Roy said, referring to the Spanish national police force.
The Catalan police force has been directed to empty the buildings by early Sunday, but to refrain from using violence to remove parents and students. How the 17,000 regional officers respond to their mandate and whether they can clear all the polling places could be key to the success or failure of the referendum.
“The only thing that is clear to me is that I won’t use violence,” Roy said. “If they tell me I can’t be in a public school to exercise my democratic rights, they will have to take me out of here. I won’t resist, but they will have to carry me out.”
The other big question is whether the Catalan government can distribute enough ballot boxes and ballots to the polling stations. Police have confiscated millions of paper ballots in the days leading up the vote.
Roy said that there were no ballot boxes or ballots at Congres-Indians primary school on Saturday. He shrugged his shoulders, saying “they will appear.”