14 September, 2017
Like the referendum held in Britain past year on the country's membership in the European Union, the issue in Catalonia pits rural areas - which are more pro-independence - against large urban centres like Barcelona which are more in favour of remaining in Spain. Spanish Attorney General José Manuel Maza sent a directive to Catalan prosecutor's offices ordering the more than 700 mayors belonging to the Association of Municipalities for Independence who support the referendum to be declared "under investigation, assisted by attorneys".
So far, 712 of a total 948 municipal leaders have said they would allow public spaces to be used for the referendum, although the mayor of the region's most populous area - the city of Barcelona - has yet to take a definitive position.
This latest order comes amid growing tension between Madrid and Barcelona because of a proposed independence referendum on October 1, which has been deemed illegal by Spanish courts.
Police have searched a Catalan printing house and a local weekly newspaper suspected of making ballots for the referendum while Spain's state prosecutor has launched criminal proceedings against Puigdemont and other Catalan officials.
Officials engaging in any preparations for the vote could face charges of civil disobedience, abuse of office and misuse of public funds, the letter said.
A Spanish court has suspended a Catalan law that outlined a legal framework for an independent state, a court source said on Tuesday, the day after hundreds of thousands rallied in Barcelona to support secession from Madrid.
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Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's conservative government has vowed to do everything in his power to stop the referendum.
Spain's Constitutional Court suspended a referendum law that was fast-tracked through Catalonia's regional parliament last week.
The king added that the rights of all Spaniards will be upheld against "whoever steps outside constitutional and statutory law". They argue that Spain's 1978 constitution bars regional governments from calling independence referendums.
Rajoy said on Wednesday: "If anyone urges you to go to a polling station, don't go, because the referendum can't take place, it would be an absolutely illegal act".
The economically powerful Catalonia has a thriving population of 7.5 million and accounts for a fifth of Spain's economic output.