BARCELONA, Spain — Catalonian separatists vowed Saturday to ignore a police ultimatum to leave the schools they are occupying to use in a vote seeking independence from Spain. As police methodically sealed off hundreds of schools, some parents decided to send their children home and girded for pre-dawn confrontations Sunday with police.
Tensions rose across the country over the planned vote. In the Spanish capital of Madrid, thousands marched to protest the separatists’ attempt to break up their nation, demanding that Catalan leaders be sent to jail. In Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, thousands more took to the streets to urge their prosperous region to stay inside Spain.
The police deadline of 6 a.m. Sunday for the activists, parents and children in the occupied Catalan schools is designed to prevent the vote from taking place, since the polls are supposed to open three hours later.
Spain’s Constitutional Court suspended the independence vote more than three weeks ago and the national government calls it illegal. Police have been ordered to stop ballots from being cast on Sunday and have been cracking down for days, confiscating millions of ballots and posters.
Catalonia’s defiant regional government is pressing ahead despite the ban and the police crackdown, urging the region’s 5.3 million registered voters to make their voices heard.
Spain’s foreign minister said Saturday the Catalan government’s plan is anti-democratic and runs “counter to the goals and ideals” of the European Union.
“What they are pushing is not democracy. It is a mockery of democracy, a travesty of democracy,” Minister Alfonso Dastis told The Associated Press.
He said some pro-independence groups are “adopting Nazi-like attitudes by pointing at people that are against that referendum and encouraging others to harass them.”
A top Spanish security official in Catalonia says police have already sealed off more than half of the 2,315 polling stations and disabled software that was to have been used in the referendum. Enric Millo, the highest-ranking Spanish official in the northeastern region, said parents and students were found to be occupying at least 163 schools — but about 1,000 more still need to be checked.
The regional police force has been ordered not to use force in vacating the schools. Millo said anyone remaining in schools after 6 a.m. will need to be removed in line with a judge’s order.
“I trust in the common sense of Catalans and that people will operate…