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Separatist supporters mass outside Barcelona top court

Protesters gather outside Supreme Court in a show of support for next month's planned independence referendum.

Pro-independence supporters

Pro-independence supporters have gathered outside Barcelona's top court for a second consecutive day, protesting against the Spanish government's attempts to block a referendum on Catalonia's split from Spain.

The demonstrations began after Spanish authorities, which outlawed the vote scheduled for October 1, detained on Wednesday 14 regional officials and seized referendum materials, including some 10m ballot papers, in an unprecedented raid of regional government offices.

The protesters on Thursday packed the Barcelona Boulevard connecting Arc de Triomf and Parc Ciutadella, two popular tourist attractions, waving signs reading "Stop dictatorship" and "We want to vote".

Among those detained was Josep Maria Jove, Catalonia's junior economy minister.

Acting under court orders, police also raided printers, newspaper offices and private delivery companies in a search for campaign literature, instruction manuals for manning voting stations and ballot boxes.

On Thursday, Catalan leaders acknowledged for the first time that plans to hold the referendum were now in doubt.

"It is obvious that we won't be able to vote as we would have liked," Oriol Junqueras, deputy head and economy minister of the regional government, told local television TV3.

"They have altered the rules," he said, adding, however, that he was convinced voters would still turn out in numbers.

On Wednesday, Catalonia's President Carles Puigdemont said the government's actions imposed a "de facto" state of emergency and denounced the "totalitarian and undemocratic attitude of the Spanish state".

Later in the day, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy denounced the referendum as undemocratic and called for Catalonia's pro-independence leaders to "stop this escalation of radicalism and disobedience once and for all" in a televised statement.

Spain's constitution grants the central government exclusive power to hold referendums.

Polls show about 40 percent of Catalans support independence although a majority want a referendum on the issue.


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