BARCELONA, Spain — The Latest on Catalonia’s plans to hold a referendum Sunday on breaking away from Spain (all times local):
Thousands of Catalans are marching in downtown Barcelona in defense of Spanish unity and against a disputed referendum on the region’s independence that separatist politicians want to hold Sunday.
Protesters wrapped in red and yellow regional and national colors displayed a giant Spanish flag over their heads, as a light rain started falling late Saturday afternoon.
They chanted “Don’t let them fool you, Catalonia is Spain” and called for regional president Carles Puigdemont to step down.
Puigdemont openly favors Catalonia’s breaking away from Spain.
The crowd headed toward the gothic palace that houses the headquarters of the Catalan government.
The main civic group behind Catalonia’s push for independence says a turnout of 1 million voters — less than a fifth of the electorate — would make the region’s secession referendum an “overwhelming success” given the Spanish government’s efforts to stop the vote.
Catalan National Assembly President Jordi Sanchez said Saturday that the government crackdown, which has included deploying extra police to close polling places, may inhibit turnout among the region’s 5.3 million eligible voters.
Catalan authorities had said they hoped Sunday’s referendum would generate higher turnout than the 2.3 million people who voted in a mock plebiscite in 2014. In that vote, more than 80 percent favored independence.
The Catalan government has pledged to declare independence from Spain within 48 hours of Sunday if the ‘yes’ vote wins no matter what the turnout is.
It’s not clear whether the Catalan government can distribute enough ballot boxes and ballots to its polling stations to carry out a credible vote on whether the northeastern region should declare independence from Spain.
Police in Catalonia have already confiscated 10 million paper ballots. On Saturday, they were sealing off many schools as possible to prevent them from being used as polling stations. Police have given activists and parents an ultimatum to leave the schools by 6 a.m. Sunday — three hours before the vote is to begin.
Enric Millo, the highest-ranking Spanish official in the region, says central authorities would tolerate informal balloting in the streets of Catalonia since that can’t be considered a valid electoral vote.
He says “they can always put a makeshift table in the street, with…