At least 10,000 striking high school and university students rallied in Barcelona this afternoon to defend Catalonia's right to hold an independence referendum which has been banned by Madrid. RTE reported.
A parade of farmers' tractors also rolled into Barcelona on Friday in support for Catalonia's independence vote as Catalan and Spanish authorities issued conflicting statements on whether the disputed referendum would even take place on Sunday, CBS News reported.
The vehicles, many with Catalan flags, drove slowly into the city to the cheers of residents who stood by the side of the road.
The students, many draped in red and yellow Catalan independence flags, gathered outside a building at the University of Barcelona in the center of the Catalan capital.
"We will vote!" and "Independence!" they chanted as they marched along the Gran Via, one of Barcelona's main avenues, blocking traffic.
"The majority of young people are separatists, and if they weren't, they have become separatist after seeing what Spain has done in recent weeks," 16-year-old high school student Aina Gomez told AFP.
Opinion polls show Catalans are split on the issue of independence, but a large majority want to vote in a legitimate referendum to settle the matter.
Over the past few days, judges and prosecutors have ordered the seizure of electoral material including millions of ballot papers, the closure of websites linked to the vote and the detention of key members of the team organizing the referendum.
The electoral board set up to oversee the vote has been dissolved, and on Tuesday prosecutors ordered police to seal off places to be used as polling stations and guard them until Sunday.
Some students have said they may occupy schools and universities that could be used as the polling station in Sunday's referendum in the wealthy northeastern region of Spain which is home to 7.5 million people.
Catalonia's regional police force, the Mossos d'Esquadra, warned yesterday that there was a risk of a "disruption of public order" if police sealed polling stations as they have been instructed to do.
Spain's government calls the vote illegal since it violates the constitution, and the country's Constitutional Court has ordered it suspended. Spanish authorities have been cracking down on efforts to organize the vote, detaining organizers and confiscating ballots and posters.
Timeline of the Catalan independence campaign
28 June 2010
Spain’s constitutional court strikes down parts of a 2006 charter on Catalan autonomy that had originally increased the region’s fiscal and judicial powers and described it as a “nation”. The court ruled that using the word “nation” has no legal value and also rejects the “preferential” use of Catalan over Spanish in municipal services. Almost two weeks later, hundreds of thousands protest on the streets of Barcelona, chanting “We are a nation! We decide!”
The Referendum is scheduled for October 1.