Spain launches police crackdown to stop Catalan independence referendum

Catalan bishops call for calm as Spain cracks down on independence vote

Spain sending extra police to Catalonia over independence referendum

Officials in Madrid have been quietly hiring cruise ships to moor in the Port of Barcelona as temporary housing as they amass what El Correo newspaper said may be more than 16,000 riot police and other security officers before the planned poll.

Spain's interior ministry said on Friday it was sending more state police to Catalonia to maintain order and make sure a banned referendum on independence does not take place. Each of the ferries has a capacity of over 6,500 passengers.

About 40,000 people took to the streets of Barcelona on Wednesday to protest Rajoy's clampdown using bused-in officers from the national Civil Guard who searched local-government offices and arrested at least 14 officials.

Spain reported some 5,000 national police are already based there, and 3,000 to 4,000 more have been reported to have arrived.

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Catalan National Assembly president Jordi Sanchez told the cheering crowds: "We will be here, peacefully but present, until all of the arrested walk out free".

"We denounce the attempt by the state to intervene in the police forces of Catalonia", Joaquim Forn, the head of Catalonia's interior department and the civilian head of the Catalan police, said Saturday, reading a statement on regional television.

Visitors to Barcelona are being warned of demonstrations in the city that could disrupt travel.

Meanwhile, hundreds more pro-independence supporters protested outside a courthouse in the north-eastern Catalan town of Hospitalet de Llobregat to demand the release of the arrested officials.

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They remain under investigation for disobedience, abuse of power and embezzlement in relation to the planned referendum and were ordered to appear before the court every week.

Catalonia represents a fifth of Spain's 1.1-trillion-euro ($1.32 trillion) economy and enjoys wide self-government.

The ministry said the Catalan Interior Ministry had been informed. The region has about 5.5 million eligible voters.

A demonstrator holds up a banner reading "We vote to be free" as she tries with others to stop the auto carrying Xavier Puig, a senior official of the Catalan government, after he was arrested by Guardia Civil officers in Barcelona, Sept. 20.

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