Spanish national police launched a widespread crackdown on Catalonia’s disputed independence referendum Sunday, raiding polling stations and firing rubber bullets in a concerted attempt to deny the vote legitimacy.
In scenes that reverberated around Spain, riot police smashed their way into some polling locations and beat back voters with batons as they attempted to take part in the referendum. Regional officials said more than 800 people were injured.
The mood on the streets of the regional capital, Barcelona, was tense as polls closed Sunday night. Crowds of people waving the regional flag and banners that read “Si” gathered in Plaza Catalonia to await results, which are expected to be announced Sunday night.
Shortly after voting ended, Spain’s Prime Minister said there was no referendum and that most Catalans were fooled into participating in an illegal vote. Spain’s top court declared the referendum illegal.
“At this point, I can tell you very clearly: Today a self-determination referendum in Catalonia didn’t happen. We proved today that our state reacts with all its legal means against every provocation,” Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said in a televised speech.
But Catalan President Carles Puigdemont remained defiant Sunday night as he condemned the violence, calling it a “shameful page” in the country’s history.
“We have won the right to an independent state,” he said.
– Spain’s Prime Minister says rule of law prevailed in blocking “illegal referendum.”
– Catalonia’s regional government condemned the police crackdown and compared it to the postwar Franco dictatorship.
– The Health Ministry of Catalonia said 844 people required medical assistance, and that two of them were in a serious condition.
– The Interior Ministry said 13 national police officers had been injured in scuffles.
– FC Barcelona said a match against a rival that supports the Madrid government would be played behind closed doors.
– The Spanish Deputy Prime Minister blamed the violence on the determination of the Catalan authorities to go ahead with the vote, despite it being declared illegal.
– Pictures showed people with injuries sustained in clashes with police.
Spain: referendum is ‘blatantly illegal’
The national government is implacably opposed to any breakaway moves by the northeastern region. Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría blamed the violence on the “crazy rush” of the Catalan regional government to hold the “unconstitutional” vote.
“The referendum couldn’t be held, and it’s not been held. To carry on with this farce makes no sense, it doesn’t lead anywhere,” she said in a news conference in Madrid on Sunday.
The Spanish Interior Ministry said authorities closed 92 of about 2,300 polling stations. Catalonian officers said police had closed 319 stations.
Defending the national police actions, Saenz de Santamaria said their objective had been to seize material associated with the referendum and not to target Catalans.
Spain’s Prime Minister echoed those sentiments Sunday night, accusing Catalonian secessionists with indoctrinating children and “harassing judges and journalists.”
“The [Spanish] government always maintained that the referendum would not