Thousands of Students Rally in Barcelona University Demanding Independence Vote

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The Spanish government is headed for a showdown with regional police in Catalonia amid signs the 17,000-strong force isn't fully committed to upholding a court ban sought by Madrid on a planned referendum on independence.

About 2,000 students gathered on Friday around and inside one of Barcelona's main universities, carrying pro-independence flags and banners supporting the vote, and shouting slogans in support of the arrested officials.

The statement said the extra police will provide backup for the regional Catalan police, known as the Mossos d'Esquadra, who are also under orders to prevent the staging of the referendum. Officials in Madrid have been quietly hiring cruise ships to moor in the Port of Barcelona as temporary housing as they amass what El Correo newspaper said may be more than 16,000 riot police and other security officers before the planned poll.

Visitors to Barcelona are being warned of demonstrations in the city that could disrupt travel.

Also Friday, a Catalan regional judge ordered the release with restrictions of six people arrested Wednesday in a crackdown on referendum preparations. A statement said the six declined to give evidence.

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"You", said Rajoy, speaking to the Catalan separatist government "are making a mistake and you are going to force us to go where we don't want to go", he said last week in a televised speech at a ruling Popular Party meeting.

Student union representatives are calling for protesters to remain over the weekend to support for the vote.

Hundreds of pro-independence supporters had protested outside the courthouse in the town of Hospitalet de Llobregat to demand the officials' release. The Constitutional Court has ordered it suspended while it studies its legality.

Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution allows the central government to take control of a regional administration if it poses a threat to the national interest.

On the same day that the mass protest took place, the CNP raided several Catalan government offices using a court mandate, confiscating between nine and 10 million blank ballots to be used in the upcoming referendum. The region has about 5.5 million eligible voters.