Madrid and Barcelona clash over control of the Catalonia police force

An armed Catalan Mossos d'Esquadra officer stands guard at Las Ramblas in Barcelona Spain

The president's remarks mark a departure from the official position of the United States, which, as recently as Monday, was that a planned nonbinding Catalonia referendum Sunday to separate from Spain was an internal matter.

Spain's prime minister called Wednesday on Catalan separatists to stop their "escalation" as several thousand people took to the streets of Barcelona to protest at Madrid's attempts to derail a banned referendum on independence, AFP reported.

Spanish police have confiscated millions of ballots in recent days as part of a crackdown to stop the October 1 vote, which has been suspended by Spain's Constitutional Court. "All the referendum's logistics have been dismantled", the Spanish government's representative in Catalonia, Enric Millo, told reporters in Barcelona.

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Mariano Rajoy, the Spanish prime minister, has said the poll is illegal and has promised that it will not take place. "You are talking about staying with a truly great, lovely and very historic country", Trump had said. The Catalan parliament then approved the plan on September 6.

Senior Madrid government officials said on Monday that authorities had done enough to prevent a meaningful referendum in the region as Catalonia lacked an election commission, ballots boxes, ballot papers, a transparent census and election material.

Spanish security forces were deployed to neutralise polling stations across the region seeking independence from the country.

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It has sent out notifications to people planning to man polling booths spread across the region, the parliamentary spokeswoman for the separatist Junts pel Si party said on Tuesday.

Catalonia and the neighboring Basque region have long expressed the desire to become independent of Spain, with the tension occasionally spilling over into violence.

What is unclear at this stage is whether the referendum will go ahead in any realistic fashion.

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People who favour independence say Catalonia, which has its own language and culture, is a "nation" - not a "nationality" as recognised by the Spanish constitution - and that as such they should be allowed to have their own state. In that sense, the vote is more of a pressure tactic on Madrid than an outright bid for independence.

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