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Catalan bishops call for calm as Spain cracks down on independence vote

A man holds a placard reading 'Vote yes' in front of Spanish policemen during a demonstration in Barcelona on September 20, 2017 (Getty Images)

Bishops in Catalonia have appealed for calm after Spanish raided offices and detained local politicians ahead of a planned independence referendum.

Catalonia’s regional parliament, which is controlled by pro-independence parties, has called a referendum for October 1, but the Spanish government has declared the vote illegal.

Around 40,000 people protested outside the Catalan economy ministry in Barcelona as police raided the building and arrested the regional economy minister, Josep Maria Jové.

Spanish police also seized large amounts of referendum material from other government and political offices, including the headquarters of the far-left CUP party.

The raids have stoked anger among independence supporters, who have taken to the streets in protest. Some reports even suggest police stopped a column of 20 tractors from entering Barcelona, the regional capital, in support of the demonstrators.

In a statement, the Tarraconese Episcopal Conference, which includes all the bishops of Catalonia, called it a “delicate moment in [Catalonia’s] history” and pleaded with Christians to avoid confrontation.

“We ask that everyone, especially Christians, should be responsible and careful in public life, to travel on the road of dialogue and understanding, out of respect for rights and institutions, and avoid confrontation.”

They asked all Catholics to pray for God’s blessing on the region so that it continues to be a place of “fraternity, liberty and peace”.