Catalan mayors defy Spain's government over independence vote

Catalan regional President Carles Puigdemont speaks during a Catalan pro-independence meeting at Tarraco Arena in Tarragona south of Barcelona Spain

Along with hundreds of flag-waving protesters in downtown Barcelona, the mayors gave speeches in which they promised continued support for the referendum.

"Don't underestimate the strength of Catalonia's people who have taken the decision to decide", declared Catalan President Carles Puigdemont.

The Catalan government plans to hold a referendum on self rule for the wealthy northeastern region on October the 1st.

Spain considers the vote illegal, as does its Constitutional Court.

Nevertheless, 740 of Catalonia's 948 mayors have pledged to keep municipal buildings open for voting on the day, leading the Spanish public prosecutor to threaten them with arrest. On Friday, Catalonia's highest court also issued a warning to seven local newspapers not to print any notices for the independence referendum.

Spanish police on Saturday seized printing materials meant to support and promote the referendum near Barcelona.

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"I think it's very sad".

The European Union is more concerned about its own economic well-being, which could be harmed by Catalonia's secession from Spain, than about recognizing a newly-independent country on Europe's map, Enric Folch, worldwide secretary of the Catalan Solidarity Party, told Sputnik.

Thousands of Basques holding banners that read "we want to decide" marched on Saturday (Sep 16) in support of Catalonia's independence referendum to separate from Madrid, which Basque separatists have long fought for. He added that if Catalonia gains independence, it will not be able to become an EU member state immediately after the referendum and will have to follow the same accession process to be admitted to the European Union as those countries that had been entering the bloc since 2004.

Organisers said 35,000 people rallied in the northern city of Bilbao - a symbolic protest in a region still marked by decades of violence once waged by armed separatist group ETA, and where the desire for independence remains strong.

According to July poll, only 41 percent of Catalans favor independence but almost 70 want a vote.