Catalonian separatists yesterday ignored a police ultimatum to leave the schools they are occupying to use in a vote seeking independence from Spain.
As police methodically sealed off hundreds of schools, some parents decided to send their children home and girded for predawn confrontations today with police.
Tensions rose across the country over the planned vote. In the Spanish capital of Madrid, thousands marched to protest the separatists' attempt to break up their nation, demanding that Catalan leaders be sent to jail.
In Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, thousands more took to the streets to urge their prosperous region to stay inside Spain.
Spain's Constitutional Court suspended the independence vote more than three weeks ago and the national government calls it illegal.
Police have been ordered to stop ballots from being cast today and have been cracking down for days, confiscating millions of ballots and posters.
Catalonia's defiant regional government is pressing ahead despite the ban and the police crackdown, urging the region's 5.3 million registered voters to make their voices heard.