THOUSANDS of Catalans have rallied in public squares across Barcelona and hundreds of other towns in support of the independence referendum scheduled to take place on October 1, and which Spain’s central government in Madrid has declared illegal.

Many defied police by carrying pro-independence flags and hanging banners calling for the vote to go ahead.

With less than a week to go – and after Spain’s Guardia Civil seized posters and up to 10 million ballot papers – crowds were asked by politicians and grassroots groups to print and distribute posters supporting the vote.

In Barcelona, around one million official ballots were distributed by rally organisers and students.

Carme Forcadell, the speaker of Catalonia’s parliament, told a crowd in the Catalan capital: “The Spanish Government talks about democracy, but they are acting the same as the Franco dictatorship.

“They think that by putting us away they’ll be done with our ideas, but democracy will always triumph,”

“I ask you to go out and vote. Vote for the future of Catalonia.”

Forcadell also asked demonstrators to keep their protests peaceful – as they have been until now.

Last week saw the arrests of more than a dozen senior Catalan Government officials, who were facing daily fines of up to €12,000 (£10,600) for helping facilitate the poll.

Although all had been released by Friday, six remained under investigation after they declined to give evidence.

Pictures also emerged of Spanish tanks being transported into Catalonia on low-loaders and of the three ferries which have docked in Barcelona to accommodate the police reinforcements.

The Spanish government announced over the weekend that it would take control of the Catalan police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra, which would be controlled from Madrid instead of Barcelona.

Such a move would mean that it, along with the Spanish National Police and Spain’s Guardia Civil, would be managed from the home affairs ministry.

However, Mossos chief, Josep-Lluís Trapero, asked for a written order on the matter, before going on to say that he would refuse to comply.

Joaquim Forn, head of Catalonia’s interior department and the civilian head of the Catalan police, said on regional television: “We denounce the attempt by the state to intervene in the police forces of Catalonia. This is unacceptable.”

And a tweet on the Mossos official Twitter account read: “We will continue working like we’ve done until now.

“We will exercise our powers to guarantee security and public order and be at the service of citizens.”

As the final countdown to Sunday’s vote gets under way, all eyes will be on Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who has already ordered thousands of police reinforcements into Spain’s richest state.

Rajoy claims the referendum goes against Spain’s constitution, and said his government is confident it will not go ahead, because “no democracy can accept the wiping out of the constitution and the national sovereignty”.

But his heavy-handed tactics that saw raids on Catalan government and media offices, as well as printing workshops, could yet backfire.

The latest opinion poll for the Catalan newspaper ARA, showed a widening lead for the Yes camp.

“At present, 44.1 per cent of Catalans claim they would vote Yes in the referendum, with 38.1 per cent against. A blank ballot would be the choice for 3.9 per cent, while 13.9 per cent remain undecided,” said ARA.

“In June the Yes camp led by 3.4 points… rising to 4.1 points in July… all the way to today’s six-point lead. The gap is far greater than the poll’s margin of error and the advantage for independence support appears to be firmly consolidated.”

The survey also predicted a massive turnout of 96.2 per cent and a landslide Yes win of almost 70 per cent of the vote.

Meanwhile celebrity backing for the referendum has come from Pep Guardiola, the former coach of FC Barcelona who now has a similar role at Manchester City.

He has long supported Catalonia’s right to self-determination, and in a recorded statement backed Sunday’s vote, saying “this is not about independence, but about democracy”.

He added: “The wishes of the people of the 21st century are different than those of the 20th century people, and above all they are different from those of post-dictatorship people.”