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Catalan independence vote divides region's mayors

BARCELONA (Reuters) - Barcelona’s mayor has asked for reassurances that municipal staff would not face legal action or lose their jobs if they helped to organize an Oct. 1 referendum on Catalonia seceding from Spain.

A "Senyera" (Catalan flag) is seen through a grid in a window shop in Barcelona, Spain, September 7, 2017. REUTERS/Albert Gea

However, some of the region’s nearly 1,000 mayors have already said they would go ahead with the vote, despite it being declared illegal by Madrid.

Having originally offered to allow premises across the city to be used as polling stations, Barcelona mayor Ada Colau has asked the Catalan government for further reassurances that civil servants involved would be protected, her office said.

“We support the right to participate and protest completely but we will repeat what we have said many times before: we will not put at risk institutions or civil servants,” Barcelona’s deputy mayor, Gerardo Pisarello, said on Friday.

Catalonia’s parliament voted on Wednesday to hold an independence referendum on Oct. 1, setting up a clash with the Spanish government that has vowed to stop what it says would be an illegal vote.

Polls in the northeastern region show support for self-rule waning as Spain’s economy improves. But the majority of Catalans do want the opportunity to vote on whether to split from Spain.

As of Friday night, 674 of Catalonia’s 948 municipal districts had informed the government of their intention to allow city spaces to be used for the vote, according to the Municipal Association for Independence (AMI).

In a video posted on Twitter, the mayor of the Cerdanyola municipality tore in half a letter from the Constitutional Court warning of the legal repercussions of participating in the referendum to applause from the crowd watching.

Pro-independence groups protested on Friday outside the offices of several mayors across Catalonia who announced they would not allow municipal spaces to be used for the vote.

On Saturday, Spanish police searched the offices of a weekly newspaper in the town of Valls in search of ballot papers, according to newspaper La Vanguardia. On Friday, the Civil Guard police searched a printing company near Tarragona, reportedly in search of materials to be used in the independence vote.

Spain’s Civil Guard police was unavailable for comment but a court statement said the searches were related to charges brought by the public prosecutor in relation to the referendum.

Reporting by Sam Edwards; Editing by Ros Russell