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'Significant number' of police sent to Spain's Catalonia ahead of election: PM

FILE PHOTO: Spain's acting Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez gives a statements at the Palacio de la Moncloa in Madrid, Spain October 24, 2019. REUTERS/Javier Barbancho/File Photo

MADRID (Reuters) - A “significant number” of security forces will be sent to Catalonia ahead of Sunday’s parliamentary elections to make sure that protests that have rocked the Spanish region do not disrupt the vote, acting Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Wednesday.

Catalan separatism, and the weeks of protests that erupted in the regional capital Barcelona following the sentencing of nine independence leaders to jail mid-October, have been thrust into the spotlight again as Spain gears up for its fourth election in four years.

Authorities have been bracing for pro-independence protests on the eve of the vote that could potentially turn violent, government and Socialist party sources had told Reuters last week.

“Logically, we have deployed a significant number of state security forces to ensure normality on a day in which citizens and their vote must be the protagonists,” Sanchez told public broadcaster RNE.

A spokesman for the national police in Barcelona said anti-riot police had been deployed to Catalonia in order to “reinforce in the event of potential unrest, such as blocking polling stations” but added that regional police will be tasked with keeping order on the day, with the national police prepared only to step in if asked.

The main candidates in the election clashed over how to handle Catalan separatism in a TV debate on Monday. Polls suggest this could be a decisive issue in the Nov. 10 poll, with the Socialists, led by Sanchez, still ahead but slipping in support while right-wing parties, who have promised to take a harder line on the restive region, see a surge.

Independence is highly divisive in Catalonia, with a poll in July showing 44% backing secession and 48.3% against it.

Reporting by Jose Elías Rodríguez, Belen Carreno and Joan Faus; Writing by Ashifa Kassam; Editing by Ingrid Melander