Barcelona, Spain | AFP | Spanish riot police used batons and rubber bullets to storm polling stations in Catalonia on Sunday, triggering clashes as thousands turned out to vote in an independence referendum banned by Madrid.
At least 92 people were confirmed injured out of a total of 761 who went to hospital, Catalan authorities said, as police cracked down on a vote Spain’s central government branded a “farce”.
The interior ministry said 33 police needed medical attention.
— Harrison Mumia (@harrisonmumia) October 1, 2017
The violence raised alarm abroad and further heightened tensions between Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s government and the authorities in Catalonia in the worst political crisis in Spain in decades.
The referendum was organised in secret under the threat of reprisals and criminal charges but thousands of Catalans stood in defiance of the central government crying “Votarem” — “We will vote”.
In a televised address after polls closed, Rajoy called the referendum a process that “only served to sow division, push citizens to confrontation and the streets to revolt.”
“I will not close any door, I have never done it,” the prime minister added, suggesting he would be willing to negotiate with Catalonia to try to satisfy the region’s demands for greater autonomy.
From early in the day, helmeted police armed with batons moved in en masse to seal off polling stations and seize ballot boxes, sparking clashes.
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Videos posted on social media show police dragging voters from polling stations by their hair, throwing people down stairs and attacking Catalan firefighters who were protecting polling stations.
“They took the ballot boxes by force… and they literally yanked them from us as we continued to sing ‘Els Segadors’, the Catalan hymn, and shouting “long live democracy’,” said Marc Carrasco, in charge at one Barcelona polling station.
“From Batons to Barbecues, Catalan Vote Exposes Police Divisions” by REUTERS via NYT https://t.co/ITVv8DymKN
— Votarem-We will vote (@pacoriviere) October 1, 2017
In the second such vote in three years, more than 5.3 million people were called on to have their say on independence from Spain in the wealthy northeastern region which has its own distinct language and culture.
They were asked: “Do you want Catalonia to become an independent state in the form of a republic?”
The referendum law foresees a declaration of independence within 48 hours of a ‘Yes’ vote but it remains unclear if the regional government will actually do so.
– Camped inside overnight –
Even before the vote, judicial officials ordered police to seize ballot papers, detain key organisers and shut down websites promoting the referendum after Madrid and the courts deemed it unconstitutional.
Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria called on the Catalan authorities to call off what she dismissed as a “farce”.