MADRID — The Catalan regional government’s plan to hold an independence referendum is a “mockery of democracy,” Spain’s foreign minister said Saturday.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis accused the Catalan government of trying to promote an exclusionary system that runs counter to the goals and ideals of the European Union.

He says voter referendums can’t be equated with democracy, saying that often they are the “instrument of choice of dictators.”

The Spanish government says the referendum on independence for the northeastern region is unconstitutional and the country’s Constitutional Court has suspended the vote so it could consider the matter. Catalan officials say they plan to hold the referendum Sunday anyway.

“What they are pushing is not democracy. It is a mockery of democracy, a travesty of democracy,” Dastis said. “The Catalan people, which are a part of Spain, cannot decide alone for the whole of country.”

He defended the Spanish government’s decision to deploy thousands of police reinforcements to Catalonia to prevent the vote.

“It’s totally justified,” he said, recalling how late U.S. President John F. Kennedy “used the long arm of the law to stop segregation.”

He said if there were disturbances Sunday “it will clearly be on the side of those who advocating the referendum.”

Dastis said the radical CUP party that shores up Catalonia’s separatist-minded government was “adopting Nazi-like attitudes by pointing at people that are against that referendum and encouraging others to harass them.”

He said the CUP has put “out posters with the faces of mayors who are not supporting the referendum” — comparing that the Nazis’ use of posters and signs to single out the houses of Jews.

Dastis also criticized the use of children this weekend to occupy schools in Catalonia so that they can be used as polling stations in Sunday’s independence vote. Parents and pupils were occupying the schools so police could not dismantle polling stations in them.