×
  • A Spanish riot police officer swings a club against would-be voters near a school assigned to be a polling station by the Catalan government in Barcelona, Spain, on Sunday. AP

  • People block the street in a stand off with civil guards in Sant Julia de Ramis, near Girona, Spain, Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017. Scuffles have erupted as voters protested while dozens of anti-rioting police broke into a polling station where the regional leader was expected to show up for voting on Sunday. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco) Francisco Seco

  • Spanish riot police shoots rubber bullet straight to people trying to reach a voting site at a school assigned to be a polling station by the Catalan government in Barcelona, Spain, Sunday, 1 Oct. 2017. Spanish riot police have forcefully removed a few hundred would-be voters from several polling stations in Barcelona. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti) Emilio Morenatti

  • Three man hold to each other as they try to block a Spanish police van from approaching a voting site to prevent would-be voters from voting at a school assigned to be a polling station by the Catalan government in Barcelona, Spain, Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017. Spanish riot police have forcefully removed a few hundred would-be voters from several polling stations in Barcelona.(AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti) Emilio Morenatti

  • Spanish riot police removes fences thrown to them as one aims his rubber bullet rifle as they try to prevent people from reaching a voting site at a school assigned to be a polling station by the Catalan government in Barcelona, Spain, Sunday, 1 Oct. 2017. Catalan pro-referendum supporters vowed Saturday to ignore a police ultimatum to leave the schools they are occupying to use in a vote seeking independence from Spain. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana) Felipe Dana

  • Civil guards force a man with a child to leave the entrance of a sports center, assigned to be a referendum polling station by the Catalan government in Sant Julia de Ramis, near Girona, Spain, Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017. Scuffles have erupted as voters protested as dozens of anti-rioting police broke into a polling station where the regional leader was expected to show up for voting on Sunday. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco) Francisco Seco

  • Pro-referendum supporters gather at the Escola Industrial, a school assigned to be a polling station by the Catalan government, in Barcelona, Spain, Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017. Catalan pro-referendum supporters vowed to ignore a police ultimatum to leave the schools they are occupying to use in a vote seeking independence from Spain.(AP Photo/Felipe Dana) Felipe Dana

  • People gather outside a school assigned to be a polling station by the Catalan government at the Gracia neighborhood in Barcelona, Spain, early Sunday, 1 Oct. 2017. Catalan pro-referendum supporters vowed to ignore a police ultimatum to leave the schools they are occupying to use in a vote seeking independence from Spain. (AP Photo/Bob Edme) Bob Edme

  • An elderly lady is applauded as she celebrates after voting at a school assigned to be a polling station by the Catalan government at the Gracia neighborhood in Barcelona, Spain, Sunday, 1 Oct. 2017. The Spanish government and its security forces are trying to prevent voting in the independence referendum, which is backed by Catalan regional authorities. Spanish officials had said force wouldn't be used, but that voting wouldn't be allowed. (AP Photo/Bob Edme) Bob Edme

  • A pro independence supporter holds up ''esteleda'' or Catalan pro independence flags, in support of the Catalonia's secession referendum, in Pamplona, northern Spain, Sunday, Oct.1, 2017. Catalonia's regional government is holding a referendum Sunday on the possibility of breaking away from Spain, despite Spain's Constitutional Court ordering the vote to be suspended and prompting a police crackdown. (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos) Alvaro Barrientos

  • 91 year old Marina Llinas is applauded as she leaves after casting her vote in a school, assigned to be a referendum polling station by the Catalan government in Girona, Spain, Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017. The Spanish government and its security forces are trying to prevent voting in the independence referendum, which is backed by Catalan regional authorities. Spanish officials had said force wouldn't be used, but that voting wouldn't be allowed. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco) Francisco Seco

  • As journalists take pictures, a parked tractor blocks the door of a sports center, assigned to be a polling station by the Catalan government and where Catalan President Carles Puigdemont is expected to vote, in Sant Julia de Ramis, near Girona, Spain, Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017. Catalan pro-referendum supporters vowed to ignore a police ultimatum to leave the schools they are occupying to use in a vote seeking independence from Spain. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco) Francisco Seco

  • After some spent the night at the Miquel Tarradell school, assigned to be a polling station by the Catalan government, pro-referendum supporters gather at the hall in Barcelona, Spain, early Sunday, 1 Oct. 2017. Catalan pro-referendum supporters vowed to ignore a police ultimatum to leave the schools they are occupying to use in a vote seeking independence from Spain. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez) Manu Fernandez

  • After some spent the night pro-referendum supporters sit at the Miquel Tarradell school, listed to be a polling station by the Catalan government, in Barcelona, Spain, early Sunday, 1 Oct. 2017. Catalan pro-referendum supporters vowed to ignore a police ultimatum to leave the schools they are occupying to use in a vote seeking independence from Spain. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez) Manu Fernandez

  • Pro independence supporters play their drums with banner reading, ''Long life working class'', while they walk through the old city in support of the Catalonia's secession referendum, in Pamplona, northern Spain, Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017. Catalonia's defiant regional government is pressing ahead with a ballot on seceding from Spain. (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos) Alvaro Barrientos

  • Pro independence supporter holds up ''esteleda'' or Catalan pro independence flag while walks along the old city in support of the Catalonia's secession referendum, in Pamplona, northern Spain, Sunday, Oct.1, 2017. Catalonia's defiant regional government is pressing ahead with a ballot on seceding from Spain. (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos) Alvaro Barrientos

  • Votes are counted at a school assigned to be a referendum polling station by the Catalan government in Girona, Spain, Sunday evening, Oct. 1, 2017. During the day Spanish riot police smashed their way into polling stations to try to halt a disputed independence referendum and fired rubber bullets at protesters. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco) Francisco Seco

  • A man waves a ''estelada'' or Catalonia independence flag during a gathering at Plaza Catalonia in Barcelona, Spain, Sunday evening, 1 Oct. 2017. During the day Spanish riot police smashed their way into polling stations to try to halt a disputed independence referendum and fired rubber bullets at protesters. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti) Emilio Morenatti

  • Officials empty a ballot box to count the votes at a school listed to be a polling station by the Catalan government in Barcelona, Spain, Sunday evening, Oct. 1, 2017. During the day Spanish riot police smashed their way into polling stations to try to halt a disputed independence referendum and fired rubber bullets at protesters. (AP Photo/Santi Palacios) SANTI PALACIOS



Associated Press
Sunday, October 01, 2017

Catalonia’s defiant bid to hold a referendum on independence from Spain degenerated into ugly scenes of mayhem on Sunday, with more than 800 people injured as riot police attacked peaceful protesters and unarmed civilians gathered to cast their ballots in a show of force the regional president decried as “another shameful page” in the Spanish government’s history with the region.

Speaking in Barcelona after polls closed, Catalan President Carles Puigdemont said he would keep his pledge to declare independence unilaterally if the “yes” side wins the disputed vote, adding: Catalonia has “won the right to become an independent state.”

Hundreds of police armed with truncheons and rubber bullets were sent in from other regions to confiscate ballots and stop the voting, and amateur video showed some officers dragging people out of polling stations by the hair, throwing some down stairs, kicking them and pushing them to the ground. Anguished, frightened screams could be heard.

Police were acting on a judge’s orders to stop the referendum, which the Spanish government had declared illegal and unconstitutional – and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said going forward with the vote served to sow divisions.

In a televised address after the majority of polls closed Sunday, he thanked the Spanish police, saying they had acted with “firmness and serenity” – comments sure to anger Catalans.

Spanish Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis said the violence, while “unfortunate” and “unpleasant” was “proportionate.”

“If people insist in disregarding the law and doing something that has been consistently declared illegal and unconstitutional, law enforcement officers need to uphold the law,” Dastis told the Associated Press in an interview.

No one knows precisely what will happen if Catalan officials use the vote – chaotic as it was – as a basis for declaring the northeastern region independent, a provocative move that would threaten Spain with the possible loss of one of its most prosperous regions, including the popular coastal city of Barcelona, the regional capital. It was also unclear how many of the region’s 5.3 million eligible voters were able to cast ballots, how their votes would be counted and how many votes had been confiscated by police.

Catalans favoring a break with Spain have long wanted more than the limited autonomy they now enjoy, arguing that they contribute far more than they receive from the central government, which controls key areas including taxes and infrastructure.

The police aggression on Sunday was likely to only fuel the passion for independence, and the main separatist group urged the regional government to declare independence after the violent crackdown.

“Today the Spanish state wrote another shameful page in its history with Catalonia,” Puigdemont said, adding that he would appeal to the European Union to look into alleged human rights violations during the vote.

Spain has become “the shame of Europe” with its iron-fist tactics, said Jordi Turull, spokesman for the Catalan regional government.

By day’s end, Catalan health services said 844 civilians had been treated in hospitals for injuries, including two in serious condition and another person who was being treated for an eye injury that fit the profile of having been hit by a rubber bullet. Thirty-three police officers were also injured.

Officials planning the police operation may have failed to take into account the ubiquitous use of smart phones with video recorders as violent images were broadcast across the world.

At the Pau Claris School in Barcelona, amateur footage filmed by one voter showed police roughing up unarmed people standing in their way. Amateur video from other locations showed similar tactics, with people seen being hit, kicked and thrown around by police, including elderly people with their dogs, young girls and regular citizens of all stripes. Many tried to shield themselves from being smacked on the head.

There were also some signs of provocation by activists. In footage released by the Spanish Interior Ministry, some protesters were seen throwing objects and metal barriers at riot police.

Elisa Arouca, who was waiting to vote outside the Estel school in central Barcelona, reacted with anger when national police agents yanked her and other prospective voters out of the way, then smashed the door open and confiscated the ballot boxes.

She had been planning to vote in favor of keeping Catalonia part of Spain, but decided instead to join the march for independence. She moved to another polling station to try and cast her vote in favor of breaking away.

“I was always against independence, but what the Spanish state is doing is making me change my mind,” she said. “The national police and civil guard are treating us like criminals.”

A member of the Israeli parliament, sent in as an observer of the vote, said she was shocked by the use of rubber bullets by Spanish police against crowds of unarmed voters.

“We did expect a normal democratic process,” said Ksenia Svetlova, part of a delegation of 33 people invited by Catalan officials to observe the voting process. “We knew that a lot of police were here but still, you know, there should be a respect for the will of the people to vote regardless of what you think of the referendum.”

Tensions were running so high that Barcelona played its soccer game against Las Palmas without fans after the team announced the match would be played behind closed doors shortly before kickoff, with thousands of soccer fans already outside the stadium. Barcelona wanted to postpone the game but said the Spanish league refused the request.

Manuel Condeminas, a 48-year-old IT manager who tried to block police from driving away with ballot boxes on Sunday, said police had kicked him and others before using their batons and firing the rubber bullets.

Elsewhere, civil guard officers, wearing helmets and carrying shields, used a hammer to break the glass of the front door and a lock cutter to break into the Sant Julia de Ramis sports center near the city of Girona that was being used as a polling station. At least one woman was injured outside the building, wheeled away on a stretcher by paramedics.

Clashes broke out less than an hour after polls opened, and not long before Puigdemont, the Catalan regional president, was expected to turn up to vote at the sports center. Polling station workers reacted peacefully and broke out into songs and chants challenging the officers’ presence.

Puigdemont was forced to vote in Cornella de Terri, near the northern city of Girona, his spokesman said.

Police had sealed off many voting centers in the hours before the vote to prevent their use. Others were filled with activists determined to hold their ground.

Spanish riot police forcefully removed a few hundred would-be voters from a polling station at a school in Barcelona. The scene was repeated at other locations, although voting was peaceful in some spots.

Daniel Riano, 54, was inside when the police pushed aside a large group gathered outside a polling station at the Estel School in downtown Barcelona and busted in the door.

“We were waiting inside to vote when the National Police used force to enter, they used a mace to break in the glass door and they took everything,” he said. “One policeman put me in a headlock to drag me out while I was holding my wife’s hand! It was incredible. They didn’t give any warning.”