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World

Madrid Cracks Down On Catalonia's Growing Independence Movement

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Thousands of people have taken to the streets in Barcelona over the past week. The city and its surrounding region, Catalonia, plan to hold an independence referendum on October 1. As Lauren Frayer reports, the Spanish central government considers this vote illegal and is trying to block it.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: For years, Catalonia's independence movement has been growing, especially during Spain's economic crisis. The central government had basically ignored it, but now it's cracking down. Over the past week, it's arrested 14 Catalan separatist officials and confiscated nearly 10 million ballots ahead of next weekend's secession vote. The streets of Catalonia have erupted...

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting in foreign language).

FRAYER: ...Into chants of independence and we will vote. Catalonia has its own language and culture, which were repressed under the nearly 40-year dictatorship of Francisco Franco. Opinion polls show Catalans are roughly divided 50-50 over whether to secede from Spain and start a new country. But a majority do want to vote on the issue. And Spain says that's unconstitutional.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARIANO RAJOY: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: They are breaking the law. They're acting against the Constitution, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy told reporters last week. Logically, the state must react, he said. Tomorrow, Rajoy visits President Trump at the White House and is likely to ask for assurances that the U.S. will not recognize an independent Catalonia. No country so far has said it would.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CARLES PUIGDEMONT: (Foreign language spoken).

FRAYER: In a weekend message on social media, Catalan President Carles Puigdemont accused Rajoy of crossing red lines by cracking down on people who just want a vote. He said contingency plans are in place to ensure Sunday's referendum will be held. If the yes votes win, Catalonia vows to declare independence from Spain within 48 hours. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Madrid. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.