Spain’s Central Electoral Board has banned Catalan flags from public buildings ahead of the country’s municipal elections on May 24 upon the request of anti-secession group Societat Civil Catalana (SCC).
Authorities in Spain’s north-eastern province of Catalonia were urged to "refrain from placing symbols that can be considered partisan on public buildings” and “remove those that have already been placed before the electoral process."
The ban means around 394 flags will be removed from 323 municipal buildings in order to preserve the neutrality of public authorities, angering pro-independence parties in the Catalonian region.
Although the pro-independence Convergence and Union (CiU) nationalist bloc is yet to issue a statement protesting the ban, sources were cited in the El Pais newspaper saying the party will appeal the decision.
Meanwhile, the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) called on citizens in the province to hang the flag from their balconies out of protest.
The Catalan Republican Left (ERC) party also called for civil disobedience on election day, while left-wing nationalist Popular Unity Candidates (CUP) deputy David Fernández said his party will “solemnly disobey” the ruling.
Those who refuse to obey the ruling may receive a fine of up to €1,000.
However, Socialists' Party of Catalonia (PSC) head Miquel Iceta welcomed the board’s decision.
"By common sense, electoral spaces have to be completely neutral," Iceta told reporters in the Catalan capital Barcelona.
Earlier this year, nationalist parties in Catalonia signed a “road map” agreement to become independent by 2017 if their pro-independence coalition is successful in the regional parliamentary elections on September 27.
The Catalan Nationalist Party, Democratic Convergence of Catalonia (CDC), Catalan Republican Left (ERC) and a number of associates agreed to develop a new constitution to be drafted “within 10 months” in the event that they decide to breakaway from Madrid.
The parties also agreed to set up institutions that will be at the foundation of an independent Catalan state, while Catalan President Artur Mas stated in a document the 18 months after the September polls will serve as a transition period toward independence.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has stood against the secession, saying Catalan independence would be bad for Catalans and "all other Spaniards."
EU officials have also warned Catalonia will be ejected from the bloc if it becomes independent.
In a non-binding referendum held last November which was condemned by Madrid as being “unconstitutional,” over 80 percent of Catalans voted in favour of independence, with a turnout of two million people out of an estimated 5.4 million eligible voters.