Defiant Catalans Vote on Split From Spain Despite Crackdown
Defiant Catalans Vote on Split From Spain Despite Crackdown

Defiant Catalans Vote on Split From Spain Despite Crackdown

Defiant Catalans Vote on Split From Spain Despite Crackdown

Spanish riot police burst into polling stations across Catalonia on Sunday, confiscating ballot boxes and voting papers to try to halt a referendum on a split from Spain as Madrid asserted its authority over the rebel region.
Police broke down doors to force entry into voting stations as defiant Catalans shouted ‘Out with the occupying forces!” and sang the anthem of the wealthy northeastern region. In one incident in Barcelona, police fired rubber bullets, Reuters reported.
Officers in riot gear forcibly removed people from a polling station in Girona and Catalan firefighters protected voters by standing between them and national police.
The referendum has thrown the country into its worst constitutional crisis in decades and deepened a centuries-old rift between Madrid and Barcelona.
Despite the police action, hundreds-strong queues of people formed in cities and villages throughout the region to cast their votes. At one Barcelona polling station, elderly people and those with children entered first.
“I‘m so pleased because despite all the hurdles they’ve put up, I’ve managed to vote,” said Teresa, a 72-year-old pensioner in Barcelona who had stood in line for six hours.
A minority of around 40% of Catalans support independence, polls show, although a majority want to hold a referendum on the issue. The region of 7.5 million people has an economy larger than that of Portugal.
Organizers had asked voters to turn out before dawn, hoping for large crowds to be the world’s first image of voting day.
The Catalan government said voters could print out ballot papers at home and lodge them at any polling station not closed down by police.
Elsewhere, people were not able to access the ballot boxes. In a town in Girona province where Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont was due to vote, Civil Guard police smashed glass panels to open the door and search for ballot boxes.
Puigdemont voted in a different town in the province. He accused Spain of unjustified violence in stopping the vote and said it created a dreadful image of Spain.
“The unjustified, disproportionate and irresponsible violence of the Spanish state today has not only failed to stop Catalans’ desire to vote ... but has helped to clarify all the doubts we had to resolve today,” he said.
The Catalan health service said 337 people had been injured as a result of police action. The government said 11 police officers were injured in clashes.

Nicola Sturgeon, the leader of Scotland, which voted to remain part of the United Kingdom in a 2014 referendum, said she was concerned by the images she was seeing from Catalonia.
“Regardless of views on independence, we should all condemn the scenes being witnessed and call on Spain to change course before someone is seriously hurt,” she said on Twitter.
Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel tweeted: “Violence can never be the answer! We condemn all forms of violence and reaffirm our call for political dialogue.”


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