Spain's top prosecutor is investigating more than 700 Catalan mayors for cooperating with a planned referendum on the region's independence after the nation's constitutional court ordered the vote put on hold, the prosecutor's office said yesterday.
The move increases the pressure on Catalan officials just one day before the pro-separatist camp officially kicks off its referendum campaign in the Mediterranean port of Tarragona.
Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont said September 4 that he won't accept a suspension if the government attempts to remove him.
So far 712 mostly smaller municipalities have agreed to participate, according to a list posted on the website of Catalonia's Municipal Association for Independence (AMI) which represents 750 municipalities.
"They can arrest us!"
If the mayors do not answer the summons, police should arrest them, it added.
Prosecutors earlier ordered the seizure of ballot papers and voting materials.
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.
The website set up by the Catalan government to give information on the vote, referendum.cat, stopped working on Wednesday evening, with Spanish media reporting that the regional prosecutor had ordered all websites promoting the referendum to be shut down.
Meanwhile Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and his conservative Popular Party have vowed to do everything within their power to stop the referendum, which they argue can not take place according to Spain's 1978 constitution.
In a separate order, the Constitutional Court told regional government officials on Wednesday they had 48 hours to show how they were preventing the vote from going ahead.
"If anyone urges you to go to a polling station, don't go because the referendum can't take place, it would be an absolutely illegal act", Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said Wednesday, the Associated Press reports.
In his first public comments since the Catalan government signed a decree calling the referendum, Spain's King Felipe VI said the rights of all Spaniards will be upheld against "whoever steps outside constitutional and statutory law".
But Spain's economic worries, coupled with a perception that the region pays more in taxes than it receives in investments and transfers from Madrid, have helped push the cause of secession from the fringes of Catalan politics to centre stage.
Polls show a minority of Catalans want self-rule, although a majority want the chance to vote on the issue.