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News, October 2017
Catalan Referendum on Independence Declared Illegal by Spain's Central Government, Clashes Between Federal Police and Voters
October 1, 2017
Catalan referendum on Independence: Clashes as voters defy Madrid
BBC, October 1, 2017
Catalonia's independence referendum has descended into chaos, with clashes occurring as police attempt to prevent the vote from taking place.
The Spanish government has pledged to stop a poll that was declared illegal by the country's constitutional court.
Police officers are preventing people from voting, and seizing ballot papers and boxes at polling stations.
In the regional capital Barcelona, police used batons and fired rubber bullets during pro-referendum protests.
Catalan emergency services said they had treated 38 people who were injured when police pushed back crowds of voters and forced their way into polling stations.
The Spanish interior ministry said 11 police officers had been injured.
Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont condemned the action of the national police and Guardia Civil, who were sent into Catalonia in large numbers to prevent the vote from taking place.
"The unjustified use of violence... by the Spanish state will not stop the will of the Catalan people," he told reporters.
But Spanish Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido blamed Mr Puigdemont for what he termed the day's senseless events.
And the Guardia Civil tweeted (in Spanish) that it was "resisting harassment and provocation" while carrying out its duties "in defence of the law".
What are the latest developments?
The ballot papers contain just one question: "Do you want Catalonia to become an independent state in the form of a republic?" There are two boxes: Yes or No.
Ahead of the polls opening, the Catalan government said voters could print off their own ballot papers and use any polling station if their designated voting place was shut.
In the town of Girona, riot police smashed their way into a polling station where Mr Puigdemont was due to vote.
Television footage showed them breaking the glass of the sports centre's entrance door and forcibly removing those attempting to vote.
However, Mr Puigdemont was still able to cast his ballot at another polling station.
Since Friday, thousands of separatist supporters had occupied schools and other buildings designated as polling stations in order to keep them open.
Many of those inside were parents and their children, who remained in the buildings after the end of lessons on Friday and bedded down in sleeping bags on gym mats.
In some areas, farmers positioned tractors on roads and in front of polling station doors, and school gates were taken away to make it harder for the authorities to seal buildings off.
Referendum organisers had called for peaceful resistance to any police action.
Meanwhile, both FC Barcelona and the Catalan football federation have asked the Spanish football league for tonight's match against Las Palmas to be suspended.
Violence erupts as Catalans vote on split from Spain
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.
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 projectiles.
Catalan officials said 337 people had been injured in the police crackdown. Officers in riot gear hit people with batons and forcibly removed would-be voters, including women and the elderly, from polling stations.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Organizers had asked voters to turn out before dawn, hoping for large crowds to be the world’s first image of voting day.
“This is a great opportunity. I’ve waited 80 years for this,” said 92-year-old Ramon Jordana, a former taxi driver waiting to vote in Sant Pere de Torello, a town in the foothills of the Pyrenees and a pro-independence bastion.
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.
A Spanish Civil Guard officer scuffles with a woman outside a polling station for the banned independence referendum where Catalan President Carles Puigdemont was supposed to vote in Sant Julia de Ramis, Spain October 1, 2017. REUTERS/Juan Medina
“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 Madrid government said 11 police officers were injured in the clashes.
Nicola Sturgeon, the pro-independence 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.”
Around 70 polling stations had been raided by police, Spanish Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido said.
The aim of the raids was to seize referendum material and not to target people wanting to vote, another senior government official said.
Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaría said police had acted in a proportionate manner.
“We have been made to do something we didn’t want to do,” said Enric Millo, the central government’s representative in Catalonia, at a news conference.
A top-flight Spanish soccer match between Barcelona and Las Palmas on Sunday will be played without any supporters in the stadium because of the unrest, the Catalan club said.
“FC Barcelona condemns the events which have taken place in many parts of Catalonia today in order to prevent its citizens exercising their democratic right to free expression,” a statement on the club’s website said shortly before the game was scheduled to kick off.
One analyst said the scenes being played out across Catalonia on Sunday would make it harder for Madrid and Barcelona to find a way forward.
“I think it is going to make the clash more intense and make it more difficult to find a solution,” said Antonio Barroso of Teneo Intelligence.
Puigdemont originally said that if the “yes” vote won, the Catalan government would declare independence within 48 hours, but regional leaders have since acknowledged Madrid’s crackdown has undermined the vote.
Markets have reacted cautiously but calmly to the situation so far, though credit rating agency S&P said on Friday that protracted tensions in Catalonia could hurt Spain’s economic outlook. The region accounts for about a fifth of the economy.
Additional reporting by Angus Berwick in Sant Pere de Torello, and Adrian Croft and Sonya Dowsett in Madrid; Writing by Sonya Dowsett and Pravin Char; Editing by Janet Lawrence.
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