Spanish riot police burst into polling stations across Catalonia
on Sunday, confiscating ballot boxes
and voting papers to try to halt a banned referendum on a split from Spain as Madrid asserted its authority over the rebel region.
The Mayor of the regional capital Barcelona
Ada Colau issued a statement demanding “an immediate end to police charges against the defenceless population”. Madrid said its police had acted in a proportionate manner.
Police broke down doors to force entry into voting stations as 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.
Officers in riot gear hit people with batons and forcibly removed would-be voters, including women and the elderly, from polling stations. Catalan officials said over 460 people had been injured in the police crackdown and the Spanish Interior Ministry said 12 police had been hurt. Central government’s representative in Catalonia
Enric Millo, referring to police action, told a news conference: “We have been made to do something we didn’t want to do.” The referendum, declared illegal by Spain’s central government, has thrown the country into its worst constitutional crisis in decades and deepened a centuries-old rift between Madrid and Barcelona.
It remained unclear what action the Catalan government might take. However much voting takes place, a “yes” result is likely, given that most of those who support independence are expected to cast ballots while most of those against it are not 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.
The ballot will have no legal status as it has been blocked by Spain’s Constitutional Court and Madrid for being at odds with the 1978 constitution. A minority of around 40 percent 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.
Differences were apparent in the conduct of the national Civil Guard and the regional police, Mossos. In Catalonia’s pro-independence heartland north of Barcelona, the Catalan force made little attempt to remove people from polling stations.
Organisers 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.