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A banner reading "Independence Now" is carried as thousands of people gather for a rally on Catalonia's national day 'La Diada' in Barcelona, Spain, September 11, 2017. REUTERS/Susana Vera


MADRID (Reuters) - Spain's state prosecutor has summoned all 700-plus Catalan mayors who have backed an independence referendum, as Madrid seeks to block the separatist vote it has declared illegal.

If the mayors do not answer the summons, police should arrest them, the prosecutor said in a letter delivered to local authorities on Wednesday.

Officials engaging in any preparations for the vote could face charges of civil disobedience, abuse of office and misuse of public funds, the letter said.

Catalonia's regional parliament passed laws last week to prepare for a referendum on Oct. 1. Spain's Constitutional Court suspended the vote after Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy challenged it in the courts.

Judges are now considering whether the legislation contravenes Spain's constitution, which states that the country is indivisible.

So far, 712 of a total 948 municipal leaders have said they would allow public spaces to be used for the referendum, although the mayor of the region's most populous area - the city of Barcelona - has yet to take a definitive position.

Neus Lloveras, mayor of Vilanova i la Geltru in the province of Barcelona and head of a pro-independence association, said the municipal leaders were stunned by the summons.

"We don't think any European country has ever tried to make more than 700 mayors testify," she told reporters in Barcelona.

"We have nothing to hide. When we have to go and testify, we will say everything we have been saying for days, that we owe it to our people to keep working to make sure they can freely express themselves at the ballot box."

Barcelona's Mayor Ada Colau has asked for reassurances that civil servants involved in the process will not risk losing their jobs.

Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets of Barcelona this week to show support for independence. Polls show a minority of Catalans want self-rule, although a majority want the chance to vote on the issue.

In a separate order, the Constitutional Court told regional government officials on Wednesday they had 48 hours to show how they were preventing the vote from going ahead.

(Reporting by Isla Binnie; Additional reporting by Jesus Aguado; Editing by Sonya Dowsett and Robin Pomeroy)

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