Catalan's mayors summoned over independence referendum

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Spain's prime minister is urging the people of Catalonia to refrain from taking part in a planned referendum on the region's independence that he says is unconstitutional.

Catalonia's pro-separatist government is preparing for its most serious attempt at independence in recent years after calling a binding referendum vote for October 1. "If they force people to choose between democracy and police, the choice is clear", Pique said to AFP.

Spain's state prosecutor has summoned more than 700 Catalan mayors who have backed an independence referendum, in an escalation of Madrid's efforts to block the vote that it has declared illegal. If the mayors do not answer the summons, police should arrest them, it added.

Furious at the decision to instigate a probe, Catalan municipal associations called on all the region's mayors to protest in Barcelona on Saturday to show their "rejection of a Spanish judicial system that goes after the media, ballot papers, ballot boxes... and now mayors".

So far 712 out of 948 municipalities have agreed to participate by providing polling locations.

In a boost for the credibility of the referendum, the mayor of Barcelona said earlier on Thursday that the vote would go ahead in the city, having previously expressed concern that civil servants involved may lose their jobs.

Prosecutors have already launched an official complaint against Puigdemont and members of his government over their referendum plans, accusing them of civil disobedience, misfeasance and misappropriation of public funds - the latter carrying jail sentences of up to eight years.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's conservative government has pledged to stop the referendum and was granted a suspension by the Constitutional Court while judges decide on its legality. They argue that Spain's 1978 constitution bars regional governments from calling independence referendums.

Later on Wednesday, the Catalan government's website for information on the vote, referendum.cat, was taken offline.

"Today we have said loud and clear that no orders from any court will stop us", Jordi Sanchez, head of the grassroots movement Assemblea Nacional Catalana, said in a speech to the crowd. There is a widespread feeling in the region - one of Spain's richest - that too much of its tax revenue goes to Madrid. But over 70 percent want a referendum to take place to settle the matter, similar to the plebiscite held in Scotland in 2014.

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