Catalan separatists are beginning the independence campaign referendum on Thursday, an act which has been declared illegal by the Spanish government in Madrid.
An official campaign rally to begin the campaign will be held at 8:00pm local time, with various representatives from Catalonia's independence parties attending, including President Carles Puigdemont.
Should the referendum, which is scheduled to take place on October 1, turn out with a “yes” vote for independence, the region's parliament would declare Catalonia an independent republic from Spain.
However, the Spanish government has declared the referendum, the campaign, and any events in support of the referendum illegal, including the kickoff rally. Although the event appears to be going ahead anyway, it is unclear whether the government will take action.
On Wednesday, Spain's head prosecutor ordered 712 Catalan mayors to testify in court, to cooperate with an investigation into their support for the referendum. They have been told they will be arrested if they do not comply with the investigation and show up in court.
The Spanish government has promised to stop at nothing to prevent the referendum from happening, including seizing ballot boxes and election materials. The Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has told Catalans not to go to the polling station.
“If anyone urges you to go to a polling station, don't go,” Rajoy said.
Ramon Pique, the coordinator of the Catalan National Assembly campaign, has said however that the determination of the state to prevent the independence referendum from being carried out might actually have the effect of boosting support among Catalan's for independence.
“The attitude of the state is so aggressive that no democrat can remain indifferent. If they force people to choose between democracy and police, the choice is clear,” Pique said to AFP.
Earlier this week, over a million people gathered in Barcelona, Catalonia's capital, in a show of support for independence on Catalonia's national day 'La Diada.'