Catalan official calls for EU support ahead of referendum

Minister of Foreign Affairs, Institutional Relations and Transparency Raul Romeva speaks with the media at the delegation offices in Brussels on Thursday, Sept. 28, 2017. Raul Romeva appealed for support from the European Union before a disputed referendum calling for independence from Spain and that EU institutions need to "understand that this is a big issue." (AP Photo/Olivier Matthys)

MADRID (AP) — Catalonia’s foreign affairs chief appealed Thursday for support from the European Union for his region’s disputed referendum on independence from Spain, which the Spanish government is trying to stop.

Meanwhile, an international media watchdog rebuked the Catalan region’s pro-independence movement for placing undue pressure on journalists to present its side of the dispute.

Catalan foreign affairs representative Raul Romeva said in Brussels that EU institutions need to “understand that (the referendum) is a big issue.”

Romeva spoke hours before thousands of striking Catalan university students, many carrying pro-independence flags, marched in Barcelona to protest a central government crackdown on the plans to hold a regional ballot on secession Sunday.

The previous day, Catalan regional president Carles Puigdemont accused the EU, in an interview with The Associated Press , of “turning its back” on Catalonia in its conflict with Spain’s central government.

Romeva accused the Spanish government of a “brutal crackdown” on Catalan officials to try to prevent the vote, which Spain considers to be illegal. He said he doesn’t expect violence on the day of the ballot.

Reporters Without Borders said in a report published Thursday that pressure by the Catalan government and social media harassment by “hooligans ” of the pro-independence movement has created a suffocating atmosphere for journalists covering the referendum.

It said the regional government’s push to impose its side of the story in local, Spanish and international media has “crossed red lines.”

The watchdog added that Spanish authorities’ legal measures against Catalan media to stop the spread of information about the referendum have contributed to an atmosphere of extreme tension.