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Spain to bring criminal charges against Catalan lawmakers

An Estelada (Catalan separatist flag) hangs on a balcony in Barcelona

The Spanish government on Thursday took steps to prevent a referendum on independence for Catalonia from going ahead on Oct 1 and to prepare criminal charges against regional lawmakers who had voted to hold the ballot.

A majority of Catalonia’s parliament voted on Wednesday to hold the referendum in an acrimonious session in which mainstream political parties left the chamber during the vote and pro-independence lawmakers sung the Catalan anthem.

The government says any referendum on regional secession from Spain is illegal as the constitution states that the country is indivisible.

Spain’s state prosecutor’s office said on Thursday it would present criminal charges against leading members of the Catalan parliament for allowing Wednesday’s parliamentary vote to go ahead.

The state prosecutor-general, Jose Manuel Maza, told reporters he had also asked the security forces to investigate any preparations by the Catalan government to hold the referendum. This could involve printing leaflets or preparing polling stations.

Teachers, police and administrative workers are among civil servants that could risk fines or potentially the loss of their jobs by manning polling stations or taking part in other activities deemed as helping the vote.

Barcelona residents on Thursday had mixed feelings about the possibility of a referendum.

“It will never be legal if it’s not agreed with the government,” said 53-year-old interior designer Laurent Legard. “This is not the right path.”

Dolores, a 55-year-old receptionist who declined to give her surname, disagreed.

“We are delighted – we’ve been waiting for this moment for many years. It really is a democracy to allow people to give their opinion about how they want to live and how they want their country to be,” she said.

Catalan’s regional head, Carles Puigdemont, has said the results of the referendum will be binding no matter what the turn-out is. Analsyts have said a low turn-out would harm the legitimacy of the result.

Catalonia will declare independence within 48 hours of a “yes” vote, the referendum law states.

A non-binding ballot on independence in 2014, for which Catalan politicians have already been punished for preparing, gave a “yes” vote with a turn-out of just over 30 per cent.

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