Catalans are slowly and surely voting for independence.
Mick O'Reilly, Foreign Correspondent
Trinitat Nova, Barcelona: Jorge Fernandez has thick hardened hands that speak to his 20 years working hard for a living. He's one of several hundred voters who are waiting patiently in line to cast his ballot on Catalan independence. In about an hour, judging by the way the line is slowly but surely moving towards the ballot box, those mighty hands will pick up a pen and mark an X for 'Si' - 'Yes' on a vote.
"Everyone here is voting 'Yes'," he tells Gulf News.
Inside this large secondary school, set on a street of low-rise and low-income apartment buildings on the northeast suburbs of Barcelona, three volunteers are manning the polling booth.
One checks identities, another crosses names off a printout of the electorate, while a third hands out a white envelope containing a ballot paper. It's slow going. And each of the three, looking ever so like middle-aged librarians or schoolteachers, faces a fine of e1/4300,000 (Dh1.3 million) for doing what they now do. The school authorities, who allow the vote to happen, also risk criminal prosecution by Spanish authorities, who have declared the Catalan referendum to be illegal.
Earlier, the Madrid government ordered the federal police, the Guardia Civil, to confiscate ballot papers, and 10 million were seized.
Here, there are a ballot papers, the vast majority being marked for independence.
"Catalonia is Spain's oldest colony," Fernandez tells Gulf News. "We have our own language and our own history. We were the first colony to be brought into the Spanish Empire. Then came the Americas and Philippines. But Catalonia was the first. All those nations have independence. And today we will gain our independence."
Overhead, a dark blue Guardia Civil helicopter circles, while across the street, three members of the Mossos d'Esquadra, the Catalan regional police, stand quietly, observing the vote. They make no effort to intervene to prevent the vote from taking place. Elsewhere, the Guardia Civil have stormed polling stations, fired rubber bullets, and there are reports emerging that scores have been hurt.
Here, at least, there's a party atmosphere.
"People are angry now with Madrid," Fernandez tells Gulf News . "They are angry at the way they have tried to stop us from voting. We live in a democracy. And this is democracy. The people of Catalonia will have their say."
Two musicians with Catalan pipes begin to play a merry tune, with the waiting voters joining in and clapping. Elderly couples with small dogs wait for their turn to vote, so too families with children in tow to witness history in the making.
A chant breaks out somewhere down the schoolyard and it quickly becomes a crescendo: " Votarem! Votarem! " (We will vote! We will vote!)
Across the street, the three Mossos smile, benignly showing where their loyalties lie despite their call of duty.
"There is so much corruption in Madrid now that we have to go our own way," Fernandez says. "The way that Madrid is acting, it's like Franco."
And elderly woman who has been listening to the conversation adds her two cents' worth.
"Worse than Franco," she says, remembering the dark years of the dictator who died four decades ago. "At least with Franco you knew what to expect. [Prime Minister Mariano] Rajoy is worse than Franco."
She is voting 'Si' also. So too is a young man in Barcelona football shirt and a cap. And his girlfriend. And everyone else nods as well, 'Si' all around.
Is anyone voting No?
No. Not a single person. The way this polling station - Local election district 8, sections 104, 105, 106 and 107 - is voting, it's going to a landslide for Catalan independence.
"It doesn't matter if Madrid says the vote is illegal, here we are having our say, and the government will have to listen to us," Fernandez tells Gulf News . "This is the second time Catalans will have voted for our own nation, and this time they have tried everything to stop us. They have failed."
Those beefy hands shake a farewell. Down the street, there's a slow and steady stream of people walking to the school.
"Voto usted?" a man asks enthusiastically as he smiles on his way to the poll. "Have you voted?"
No, but many have, despite the efforts of the Madrid government to step the ballot.
The question now is whether it can stop Catalonia from taking the next step - an inevitable declaration of independence.
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