Spanish police on Wednesday seized millions of ballot papers in Catalonia due to be used for an independence referendum which has been banned by Madrid, a source close to the case said.
The source, who requested anonymity, said officers were currently counting them again, but that the number of ballots confiscated in Bigues, about 28 miles north of Barcelona, could reach nine million.
The seizure comes as thousands took to the streets in Barcelona on Wednesday over the detention of 13 Catalan government officials as the wealthy northeastern region presses ahead with preparations for the October 1 vote.
The police raids came amid mounting tensions as Catalan leaders press ahead with preparations for the October 1 vote despite Madrid’s ban and a court ruling deeming it unconstitutional.
Among those arrested by Spain’s Guardia Civil police force was Josep Maria Jove, secretary general of economic affairs and the deputy of Catalonia’s vice president Oriol Junqueras, a regional government spokesman said.
The others work in various Catalan government departments, including its economic and budget affairs departments, a local Guardia Civil spokesman said.
The reasons for the arrests were not immediately clear, but Spain’s central government has warned that officials who help stage the referendum could face criminal charges.
Police said they were carrying out a total of 22 searches as part of the operation.
Hundreds of protesters gathered outside near Jove’s office in central Barcelona, chanting “Independence” and “We will vote”. Many were drapped in red and yellow Catalan flags.
Catalan President Carles Puigdemont denounced what he said was a “coordinated aggression” and “totalitarian attitude” on the part of the Spanish state.
In a statement after a crisis meeting with the Catalan cabinet, he accused Madrid of failing to respect the principles of democracy and said it had “crossed a red line” into behaviour characteristic of dictatorial states.
He insisted that the referendum would go ahead despite the abuses of what he described as an “repressive and intimidatory regime”, and…