Thousands of police officers dispatched to evacuate polling stations in attempt to stop independence referendum with ultimatum issued for 6am Sunday

Police have sealed off more than half of the 2,315 schools in Catalonia designated as polling stations for a banned independence referendum as tensions rise ahead of the controversial ballot.

Tens of thousands of Catalans are expected to vote in the ballot, which will have no legal status as it has been blocked by Spain’s constitutional court. Madrid has sent thousands of police to the north-eastern region to stop it taking place.

Related: Colm Tóibín: ‘Catalonia is a region in the process of reimagining itself’

Related: Catalan government says millions will turn out for referendum

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