More than 760 injured in Catalonia during referendum-Catalan regional government

An independence rally in Catalonia in 2016. A year later, more than 760 people were injured as riot police clashed with people who wanted to vote in a banned independence referendum [Reuters]

Around 760 people have been injured in disturbances across Catalonia on Sunday (1 October) according to the latest figures released by the regional government, as riot police clashed with people who had gathered for a banned referendum on the region’s independence from Spain.

Spanish riot police burst into polling stations across Catalonia on Sunday, seizing ballot boxes and voting papers to prevent a banned referendum on a split from Spain in a show of force aimed at asserting Madrid’s authority over the rebel region.

Police hit people with batons, fired rubber bullets into crowds and forcibly removed would-be voters from polling stations in actions that were condemned internationally but described by the government as “proportionate”.

The referendum, declared illegal by Spain’s central government, has pitched the country into its deepest constitutional crisis in decades and deepened a centuries-old rift between Madrid and Barcelona.

Only talks would stop independence if ‘yes’ wins in referendum, says Catalan official

Catalonia has told the Spanish authorities it is willing to consider proposals to avert the break-up, but is otherwise set to proclaim independence within 48 hours if the ‘yes’ camp wins in Sunday’s referendum, Raül Romeva, a member of the Catalan government in charge of foreign relations, said on Thursday.

Despite the police action, hundreds-strong queues of people formed in cities and villages throughout the region to cast their ballots.

“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 to vote.

Polling stations’ opening hours would not be extended, a regional government spokesman said, but all those still queuing would be allowed to vote. It was still not known when the results would be announced, he said, adding it had been a long day and it would be a long count.

Catalan leader Carles 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.

A ‘yes’ result is likely regardless of how many cast their ballots in the end, because most of those who support independence are expected to turn out and vote while most of those against it are likely to abstain.

At one voting station, a man with a Spanish flag wrapped around him cast a vote while others cheered. Polls show around 40 percent of the wealthy northeastern region want independence from Spain although a majority wanted a referendum on the issue.

The ballot will have no legal status as it has been blocked by Spain’s Constitutional Court which ruled it at odds with the 1978 constitution that effectively restored democracy in Spain after the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco.

Markets have reacted cautiously but calmly to the situation so far, though credit rating agency S&P said on Friday that protracted tensions could hurt Spain’s economic outlook.

The region, with an economy greater than Portugal‘s, accounts for about a fifth of Spain’s output.

In many places, people were not able to access the ballot boxes. In a town in Girona province where Catalan leader 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.