Madrid/Barcelona: At least 500 Spanish police officers were driven out of their hotels by angry locals on Monday night as Catalan separatists pushed back against state forces after the crackdown on their illegal vote for independence.

“This is a mafia behaviour," deputy prime minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said in a televised statement Tuesday.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is fighting to maintain his authority after 2.3 million Catalans voted in Sunday’s makeshift referendum and the regional police force ignored orders to prevent the ballot. With 17,000 officers in the rebel region, the ambivalence of the Catalan police force is becoming a major headache for Rajoy as he mulls if, and when, to use Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution to take direct control of the rebel region.

Spain’s benchmark stock index was the worst performer among major European markets, falling 0.8% at 12.40pm in Madrid after a 1.2% decline in the previous session.

Catalan officers assured Madrid that they’d be able to shut down Sunday’s vote without help from the National Police and didn’t seek backup until the vote was already under way, the central government’s representative in the region, Enric Millo, said at a Tuesday briefing in Barcelona, where access to his offices was blocked by protests.

Events on the ground also suggest Catalan police officials didn’t make good on their pledge to Madrid. Patrol cars were on the streets of Barcelona before 6 am on Sunday but didn’t seal off polling stations and ballot organizers cheered as they drove past.

Rival police forces

As the situation spiraled out of control on Sunday, Rajoy sent in the National Police to raid polling stations and saw them attack protesters with batons and rubber bullets, earning criticism from United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein and observers around the world.

Tensions between the National Police and their Catalan colleagues are mounting, with Spanish officers saying their men have been put in a difficult position because the Catalans have refused to do their jobs. Minor scuffles broke out on Sunday between the rival units.

‘Coup leaders’

In Madrid, Rajoy is failing to forge a united political front to confront the separatist push under mounting pressure from his base. The conservative daily ABC printed a calendar on its front page on Tuesday, saying “Two days later, the leaders of the coup remain in their posts at the regional government."

But the main opposition Socialists on Monday urged Rajoy to negotiate with the Catalan government, not to force it out.

A member of the Socialist leadership in Catalonia, who is in regular contact with the group’s national leadership, said the party won’t offer political cover to the prime minister after seeing how he bungled attempts to block the illegal vote. A full intervention would be even more difficult to execute without sparking unrest on the streets, he said.

Interior minister Juan Ignacio Zoido met with Rajoy and Saenz on Tuesday to brief them on his talks with police chiefs on how to proceed, according to ministry press officer. The deployment of Spanish police reinforcements has been extended to 11 October, Expansion reported.

Street protests

Separatist activists took to the streets on Tuesday to press home their demands as the regional government prepares the next step toward a unilateral declaration of independence as early as this week. Public transport and shops were closed as demonstrators gathered in the centre of the Catalan capital. Highways and major roads were blocked by protesters at about 50 spots, according to the Catalan traffic bureau.

Traffic was halted on both the main highways connecting the Catalan capital with the rest of Spain.

The campaign’s political leaders are stalling on their next move as the European Union ignores their calls for mediation. Catalan President Carles Puigdemont vowed to notify the regional parliament that voters had opted for independence in Sunday’s vote. That would trigger a process leading to a unilateral declaration of independence within 48 hours, but on Monday, Puigdemont ducked the question of when he would set the clock ticking.

Puigdemont’s time frame could see him announce the formation of a Catalan republic on 6 October—exactly 83 years since his predecessor as regional president, Lluis Companys, also tried to declare independence. Companys was executed by the dictator Francisco Franco. Bloomberg

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