Spanish Police Close Schools to be Used For Catalan Independence Vote

Spain's government said on Saturday that police had sealed off 1,300 of 2,315 schools in Catalonia which had been designated as polling stations for a banned independence referendum.

An official government source said about 163 schools which have been earmarked as voting centres have been occupied by families.

People supporting the referendum have camped out overnight in schools in an effort to prevent an order by the head of the Catalan regional police to evacuate and close polling stations by 6am on Sunday, before the voting is due to open at 9am.

Tens of thousands of Catalans are expected to vote in an independence referendum that will have no legal status as it has been blocked by Spain's Constitutional Court and Madrid has sent thousands of police to the northeastern region to stop it taking place.

But Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont said on Friday that the referendum would go ahead regardless.

"Everything is prepared at the more than 2,000 voting points so they have ballot boxes and voting slips, and have everything people need to express their opinion," Puigdemont said.

On Saturday, a Catalan government spokesman said at least four police officers had entered the centre in Barcelona which controls the regional government's telecommunications and IT and were expected to stay there for two days.

This followed an order by Catalonia's High Court on Friday for police to prevent electronic voting taking place. The court also instructed Google to delete an application it said was being used to spread information on the vote.

Catalonia, whose leaders are pushing for secession from Spain, is one of the powerhouses of the Spanish economy, buoyed by industry, research and tourism but burdened with a heavy debt.

Contributing 19 percent of Spain's GDP in 2016, Catalonia rivals Madrid for the distinction of being the richest region in the country.