Catalans set to begin campaigning for independence ballot

AP

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Catalans with estelada or independence flags gather during the Catalan National Day in Barcelona, Spain, Monday Sept. 11, 2017. Hundreds of thousands are expected to rally in Barcelona to show support for an independent Catalan nation and the right to vote in a controversial referendum that has been banned by Spain. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

MADRID (AP) Tension is mounting between Catalan and Spain's national leaders as Catalonia's president is set to open the "yes" campaign Thursday for a planned referendum on seceding from Spain.

Catalan President Carles Puigdemont is expected to begin campaigning for the ballot, planned for Oct. 1, in Tarragona, about 100 kilometers (62 miles) south of Barcelona.

Spain's central government insists the vote is illegal and the Constitutional Court has suspended it pending a formal decision by judges.

Spanish police have orders to prevent preparations for the ballot, while anybody collaborating in its organization is also legally liable.

But regional authorities are trying to sidestep the legal obstacles. A judge shut down the referendum website late Wednesday but minutes later it reappeared using a different server.

Puigdemont told broadcaster TV3 on Thursday the national government in Madrid has created a "climate of hostility and paranoia" around the planned ballot.

But Spain's Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said no dialogue is possible with the Catalan authorities until they back down from their plans for a vote.

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