Posts Tagged ‘Barcelona’

Thousands protest for independence in Catalonia — Some 450,000 people took to the streets of Barcelona on Saturday

October 21, 2017

AFP

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© PAU BARRENA / AFP | Catalan regional vice-president and chief of Economy and Finance Oriol Junqueras and Catalan regional president Carles Puigdemont attend a demonstration on October 21, 2017 in Barcelona.

Video by Sarah MORRIS

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2017-10-21

Some 450,000 people took to the streets of Barcelona on Saturday, local police said, after Spain moved to dismiss Catalonia’s regional government to thwart its leaders’ independence bid.

Catalan president Carles Puigdemont was among the huge crowds filling the streets around the Paseo de Gracia boulevard, with many chanting  “independence” and “freedom”.

 People hold candles and a Catalan pro-independence "Estelada" flag during a demonstration in Barcelona against the arrest of two Catalan separatist leaders on October 17, 2017.
Catalonia’s independence referendum has thrown the country into crisis. AFP photo

The demonstration was originally called to protest against the detention of two influential separatist activists, Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sanchez, who are being held on sedition charges accused of instigating protests in the run-up to Catalonia’s banned independence referendum on October 1.

‘They’ve trampled on our rights’

But Saturday’s move by Madrid to seize powers from the semi-autonomous region — which could include taking control of its police force and replacing its public media chiefs — was on the minds of many in the crowds.

“I feel totally outraged and extremely sad,” said Meritxell Agut, a 22-year-old bank worker.

“They’ve trampled on our rights and our ideas as Catalans,” she told AFP, adding: “They can destroy everything they want but we’ll keep on fighting.”

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Crunch time for Catalan independence as leader addresses parliament

October 10, 2017

AFP

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© Pau Barrena / AFP | Protesters hold Spanish and Catalan flags during a demonstration called by “Societat Civil Catalana” (Catalan Civil Society) to support the unity of Spain on October 8, 2017 in Barcelona.

Video by FRANCE 24

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2017-10-10

Spain’s separatism crisis faced a decisive moment Tuesday with Catalonia’s leader Carles Puigdemont to address regional lawmakers in a speech his supporters hope will be a unilateral declaration of independence.

Whether the 54-year-old Catalan president will actually go ahead with it in defiance of the central government and national courts, play for time or simply back down is still a mystery.

At stake is the future of a region of 7.5 million people, one of Spain’s economic powerhouses whose independence drive has raised concern for stability in the European Union.

Measures will be ‘taken’

Political leaders in Catalonia, Spain and Europe have urged Catalan separatists to back down and ease the country’s biggest upheaval since it returned to democracy in the 1970s.

But Puigdemont says an independence referendum that took place on October 1 despite a ban by Madrid justifies secession.

About 90 percent of the 2.29 million who cast ballots voted to split from Spain, as Catalans who reject independence largely boycotted an illegal poll that was severely repressed by police.

Puigdemont hinted in a weekend interview that the region would go ahead with the declaration if Madrid continued to refuse dialogue.

“We have said yes to so many mediation options that have been proposed,” he told Catalan broadcaster TV3.

“The days are going by and if the Spanish state does not give a positive response, we will do what we set out to do.”

Such a move “will not go unanswered by the government”, Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria retorted on Monday.

“If this gentleman unilaterally declares independence, measures will have to be taken,” she told the COPE radio station.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy at the weekend refused to rule out an unprecedented constitutional manoeuvre to impose direct rule on the semi-autonomous region — a move likely to heighten tensions still further.

Mounting pressure

Catalan separatists have come under intense pressure both at home and abroad to halt plans to break away from Spain.

On Monday evening, Ada Colau, the popular mayor of Barcelona, warned a unilateral declaration of independence would put “social cohesion” at risk.

The results of the referendum “cannot be an endorsement to proclaim independence but they constitute the possibility of opening a dialogue and international mediation”, she said.

In France, Nathalie Loiseau, minister for European affairs, said that “if there were a declaration of independence it would be unilateral and it wouldn’t be recognised”.

Meanwhile German Chancellor Angela Merkel backed Spanish unity in a telephone call with Rajoy over the weekend.

The pressure also came from the street itself.

On Sunday, hundreds of thousands of Spanish flag-waving demonstrators packed central Barcelona to protest against the independence plan.

Over in the other camp, the ANC, an influential Catalan pro-independence association, called on supporters to come watch Tuesday’s parliamentary session live on screens in front of the regional parliament in Barcelona.

Business worries

The crisis has caused uncertainty in business circles.

Following the lead of the region’s two major banks, CaixaBank and Sabadell, a string of companies have moved their legal headquarters — but not their employees — from Catalonia to other parts of Spain.

On Monday, highway operator Abertis, telecoms company Cellnex and real estate firm Colonial became the latest to announce their move from Barcelona to Madrid.

Recent opinion polls indicate that Catalans are split on independence, though regional leaders said police violence during the referendum had turned many against Madrid.

Demands for independence in Catalonia, which has its own language and cultural traditions, date back centuries.

But a 2010 move by Spain’s Constitutional Court to water down a statute that gave Catalonia additional powers, combined with an economic crisis in Spain, sparked a surge in support for independence.

An ‘unknown disaster’ looms in Catalonia’s independence crisis — “The Catalonian government runs the risk of losing control of the situation entirely”

October 8, 2017

Masses of Catalans gathered in Barcelona this weekend to call for dialog and protest further confrontation with Spain. Their demand? More solutions, fewer egos. Mariel Müller reports from Barcelona.

A Spanish unity demonstration in Barcelona (picture-alliance/dpa/N. Carvalho Ochoa)

On Saturday, Sant Jaume Square in the center of Barcelona was a sea of white T-shirts. The choice of clothing was intended to send a message of peace. Thousands of residents were gathered here between the Catalonian presidential palace and Barcelona city hall in answer to an anonymous call to demonstration. And on Sunday, hundreds of thousands once more took the Barcelona’s streets under two yellow-and-red flags — that of Spain and that of the autonomous region of Catalonia (above).

The weekend’s goal: to demand that leaders on both sides of an increasingly intense conflict, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and Catalonian President Carles Puigdemont, begin a dialog.

Read more: Anti-independence Catalans have been ‘abandoned’ by Spain’s central government

“They must finally sit down with one another and talk, things cannot keep on like this,” said a man that came to Saturday’s protest with his daughter on his shoulders. He says he has an opinion about Catalonian independence, but that is not what is called for here. “If I had seen just one flag, no matter if Spanish or Catalonian, I would have left immediately,” he said. Saturday’s flags were all white, emblazoned with the words “parlem” and “hablemos,” Catalan and Spanish respectively for “Let’s talk.”

Read more: Catalan independence: Spain rejects calls for mediation by Catalan President Carles Puigdemont

A young woman explains: “This is a people’s movement, not one sponsored by a political party.” That is also the reason that this particular protest is so much smaller that those which have been held over the last few weeks, such as the massive “Si” (Yes) rally that was staged before Catalonia held its controversial independence referendum on October 1. The demonstrator said it is hard to get hundreds of thousands of people out on the streets if a political party or major organization is not behind the call. And she is right: After about three hours, Saturday’s demonstration was over and the square was once again the stage for newlyweds armed with confetti cannons.

Protesters in front of the presidential palace in Barcelona (DW/M. Müller)Protesters in front of the presidential palace in Barcelona on Saturday

‘We are the silent majority’

But what will happen if Catalonian President Carles Puigdemont really does declare independence on Tuesday? Will the Spanish government invoke Article 155 of the Constitution and nullify Catalonian autonomy? Many are worried. Will Puigdemont be arrested? How will his supporters react? Will there be more violence? Those are all questions that the demonstrators are asking. One answer is repeatedly voiced, louder and clearer than any other: “The politicians should do their damn job — for us. They should let the people decide instead of trying to push their own political agendas at any cost,” said one agitated woman.

There is no doubt the majority of the people do not want independence. “We are the silent majority. We are the 60 percent that refused to vote, or voted ‘no.'” Indeed, the overwhelming majority of those gathered on Saturday say they are decidedly against breaking away from Spain.

The Catalonian government, however, says that 90 percent of those citizens that cast ballots in the contested independence referendum are for independence. They represent some 43 percent of all eligible Catalonian voters.

Read more: Catalan independence – what you need to know

There are also a number of citizens that are open to negotiations, says Oriol Bartomeu, a political scientist at the Autonomous University of Barcelona. “Most Catalans want to remain within Spain if Catalonia’s autonomous powers are expanded and if Spain truly transform itself into a pluralist system.” The expert adds that if Madrid had taken steps in that direction when it had the chance to do so years ago, the situation today would look very different.

Political Scientist Oriol Bartomeu (DW/Mariel Müller)Bartomeu said that Madrid could have acted in years past to prevent the present crisis

‘The Spanish side feels like it will win’

But right now that is not the case, and Madrid has refused to give an inch. “The Spanish side has the feeling that it will win out, so why should it make any concessions?” Bartomeu explains. It is currently pursing a strategy that says, either Catalonia gives in completely or it unilaterally declares independence. “And that would be very risky for the government of Catalonia, because it does not have majority support among the population,” he adds. Should that scenario come to pass, the Spanish government would then invoke Article 155. And then? “That’s the unknown disaster.”

One group that could greatly influence the Catalan decision is the left-wing party Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP), which guarantees President Puigdemont’s parliamentary majority. Party spokesman Quim Arrufat says that he “does not want to take any unilateral steps.” Especially not in the wake of the heavy-handed crackdown meted out by Spanish police on the day of the referendum, he clarifies. “If there is movement on the Spanish side, then we will wait and see what happens.” Arrufat says that the CUP is prepared to start a dialog with Madrid.

CUP Spokesperson Quim Arrufat in Barcelona (DW/M. Müller)CUP spokesperon Arrufat says his party is open to dialog, but he doesn’t see way to back down from the current confrontation with Madrid

Separatist movement could become more radical

Ultimately, Arrafut believes the question is not if Catalonia will declare independence but when. He thinks that Tuesday, the day President Puigdemont is set to address Catalonia’s parliament, will be too soon. Will Puigdemont back down? “No,” says the party spokesman.

Political scientist Bartomeu says the situation is precarious. “If the Puigdemont government says, ‘let’s forget independence,’ it will have a big problem on its hands. They can say it, but that won’t mean that the separatist movement’s two million supporters will suddenly stop protesting — quite the opposite.” Then the Catalonian government will run the risk of losing control of the situation entirely, he explains. “The movement will be smaller, but much more radical,” warns Bartomeu. “At that point, no one can rule out violence between separatists and police.”

http://www.dw.com/en/an-unknown-disaster-looms-in-catalonias-independence-crisis/a-40866027

Barcelo: Huge Crowd Gathers Sunday for Pro-Unity Event

October 8, 2017

AFP

© Pierre-Philippe Marcou / AFP file picture | Spanish pro-unity supporters demonstrate against independence in Catalonia, on September 30, 2017 in Barcelona

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2017-10-08

A huge crowd is expected to rally on Sunday in Barcelona against plans by Catalonia’s separatist leaders to declare independence following a banned secession referendum.

The demonstration comes as Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy warned that he won’t rule out suspending Catalonia’s regional autonomy to stop them from declaring independence.

“The ideal would be not to have to take drastic measures,” he said in an interview published in daily El Pais.

People are set to travel from across Spain to the Catalan capital for the rally which will be held exactly one week since the contested vote that has triggered Spain’s worst political crisis in a generation.

The Barcelona protest — organised by the Societat Civil Catalana, the main anti-independence group in Catalonia — gets underway at noon (10H00 GMT).

Organisers of the demonstration say they represent the “silent majority” of Catalans who oppose independence. Their slogan for the rally is: “Enough, lets recover good sense!”

Tens of thousands of demonstrators, many dressed in white, hit the streets of Madrid and other cities across Spain on Saturday to demand dialogue to end the dispute.

Tensions soared after police cracked down on voters during the banned October 1 Catalan independence referendum, prompting separatist leaders to warn they would unilaterally declare independence in days.

Tentative signs emerged Friday that the two sides may be seeking to defuse the crisis after Madrid offered a first apology to Catalans injured by police during the vote.

But uncertainty still haunts the country as Catalan leaders have not backed off from plans to declare the region independent.

‘Still time’

Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont had been due to appear at the regional parliament on Monday but postponed it by a day, a spokesman said.

It remains unclear what he plans to say, although some separatist leaders hope he will use the opportunity to make a declaration of independence.

Spain could respond by suspending the region’s existing autonomous status and imposing direct rule from Madrid.

“I don’t rule out anything,” Rajoy told El Pais in an interview published Sunday when asked about applying the constitutional provision that allows the suspension.

“But I must do things at the proper time… I would like the threat of an independence referendum to be withdrawn as quickly as possible.

Rajoy in the interview assured Catalan leaders that there “is still time” to backtrack and avoid triggering a tough response from the central government in Madrid.

‘Break a people’

The crisis has raised fears of unrest in Catalonia, northeastern region about the size of Belgium that is home to 7.5 million people that accounts for a fifth of Spain’s economy.

Angelo Rossini Calvo, 38, said he planned to attend the protest in Barcelona because he felt the separatist lawmakers did not have a big enough majority in the Catalan parliament to call the referendum.

“You can’t call an important referendum like this, break a people and a country because you have one seat more,” the cabin crew instructor told AFP at his flat in central Barcelona on the eve of the demonstration.

Pro-separatist lawmakers won a narrow majority of 72 seats in the 135-seat Catalan parliament in a regional election in September 2015 billed as a proxy vote on independence, capturing 47.8 percent of all ballots cast.

They then pushed through a law paving the way for the independence referendum held on October 1 with little debate in parliament despite rulings from Spain’s Constitutional Court declaring such a vote illegal.

Business pressure

The Catalan government on Friday published final results from the referendum indicating that 90 percent of voters backed the idea of breaking away from Spain.

Turnout was 43 percent as Catalans who reject independence largely boycotted the polls.

The vote was not held according to regular electoral standards, without regular voter lists or observers.

Businesses and the government have kept up economic pressure on Catalonia, with several big companies announcing moves to shift their headquarters to other parts of Spain.

Rajoy’s government passed a decree on Friday to make it quicker for businesses to shift their legal domiciles away from one region to another.

Recent polls had indicated that Catalans are split on independence, though leaders said the violence during the referendum turned many against the state authorities.

With its own language and cultural traditions, demands for independence in Catalonia date back centuries but have surged during recent years of economic crisis.

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Catalonia: People gather in Madrid, Barcelona calling for talks to defuse Spain’s worst political crisis for decades

October 7, 2017

Image may contain: one or more people, crowd, sky and outdoor

People gather in Barcelona to heal speakers address the issues in Catalonia, October 7, 2017 . (photo credit ERIC GAILLARD for Reuters)

BY REUTERS
 OCTOBER 7, 2017 15:30

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy insists the region must give up the independence push.

MADRID/BARCELONA – Thousands of people gathered in Madrid and Barcelona on Saturday as Catalonia prepared to declare independence, many dressed in white and calling for talks to defuse Spain’s worst political crisis for decades.

The wealthy northeastern region of Catalonia, with its own language and culture, has long claimed to be distinct from the rest of the country and on Sunday held a referendum on leaving Spain, a vote the constitutional court had banned.

The Catalan authorities say that a majority of those who voted supported a split from Spain, something Madrid says is illegal under the country’s 1978 constitution.

The political stand-off has divided the country, pushed banks and companies to move their headquarters outside Catalonia and shaken market confidence in the Spanish economy, prompting calls from the European Commission for Catalan and Spanish leaders to find a political solution.

“I’ve come because I feel very Spanish and makes me very sad what’s happened,” Rosa Borras, 47, an unemployed secretary who had joined a noisy gathering in central Madrid, said.

Borras, wearing a “Catalonia, we love you” sticker and surrounded by thousands waving Spanish flags, added: “I wanted to be here for unity, because I also feel very Catalan. My family lives in Catalonia.”

While Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont has said he is open to mediation, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy insists the region gives up the independence push, which grew in strength during a near-six year economic crisis, before he will sit down to talk.

Rajoy’s government mobilized thousands of national police to stop Sunday’s vote, leading to clashes with would-be voters as they tried to close polling stations in schools and remove ballot boxes.

The police violence drew widespread condemnation and forced the government to issue an apology on Friday, although tensions continued to rise after reports that plans for a unilateral declaration of independence will be handed to the Catalan parliament on Tuesday.

EU CONCERNS

The crisis has also caused disquiet among Spain’s European Union partners and German Chancellor Angela Merkel has discussed it with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, an EU official told Reuters.

Concern is growing in EU capitals about the negative impact of the crisis on the Spanish economy, the fourth largest in the euro zone, and on possible spillovers to other economies.

European finance ministers, gathering in Brussels on Monday and Tuesday for a regular meeting, could discuss the issue, although it is not formally on the agenda, EU officials said.

The support given in public statements by EU leaders to Rajoy is combined with concern expressed in private about how the Spanish government’s use of police to prevent Catalans from voting last week in an independence referendum could backfire.

Some EU states are worried that talk of Catalan independence could fuel secessionist feelings in other parts of Europe.

‘Occupation forces out’: Tens of thousands protest in Barcelona

October 3, 2017

AFP

© AFP | Protesters joined by firefighters protest during a general strike in Barcelona
BARCELONA (AFP) – Shouting “occupation forces out” and “the streets will always be ours,” tens of thousands took to the streets of Barcelona Tuesday to protest police violence during a banned weekend independence referendum in Catalonia.

Columns of people converged onto the city centre as the region went on general strike, a police helicopter flying overhead, drawing angry whistles as Catalans reel from the violence that marred parts of the Spanish region on Sunday.

“Closed for revolution,” read a sign, while parents and children from a school used as a polling station on Sunday unrolled a giant banner on the street made by students earlier on.

“Navas-Sagrera (a Barcelona neighbourhood) for peace and democracy,” it read, dozens of multi-coloured little handprints above.

“You can’t stop the youth,” said Alfredo Vidal, the 68-year-old owner of a dry-cleaning shop, pointing to the hundreds of students walking slowly by, many draped in blue, yellow and red separatist flags.

Tensions in Catalonia, where separatist leaders are seeking independence, have reached boiling-point after the chaotic referendum on Sunday.

Madrid had repeatedly warned Catalan separatist leaders that the independence referendum was illegal and could not go ahead, but they did so anyway.

So it was that riot police descended onto polling stations, in some cases hitting people with batons and shooting rubber bullets, injuring over 90 people according to regional authorities.

“When you provoke people, when you offend them, then they react against you,” Vidal said.

“I had never seen Catalans putting their hand on their heart during the Catalan hymn, but for about a month now, I’ve seen them do it, especially the young,” he added.

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Catalans Urged to Strike to Protest Police Crackdown on Poll — Barcelona port could be shut down

October 3, 2017

BARCELONA, Spain — Labor unions and grassroots pro-independence groups are urging workers to hold partial or full-day strikes throughout Catalonia to protest alleged brutality by police during a referendum on the region’s secession from Spain that left hundreds of people injured.

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People held up four fingers representing the four stripes of the Catalan flag while waiting to vote in Barcelona on Sunday. Credit Chris Mcgrath/Getty

The strike call comes as Catalan leaders ponder a possible declaration of independence this week following the referendum that Spain said was illegal and invalid.

Port workers were being called to demonstrate Tuesday outside the regional headquarters of Spain’s ruling Popular Party while firefighters planned a rally outside the Interior Ministry’s regional office in the Catalan capital of Barcelona.

Protests were also to be staged outside polling stations where police acted with force to try to prevent Sunday’s poll being held.

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Demonstrators protesting against the Catalonia referendum passed a cafe in Barcelona on Sunday. Credit Jim Hollander/European Pressphoto Agency

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Catalonia: 90 per cent of the 2.26m votes cast in favour of independence — Police crackdown drew condemnation from parts of Europe

October 2, 2017

Catalonia October 1, 2017 — A woman tends to her injuries in front of riot police near a school being used as a polling station CREDIT: GERALDINE HOPE GHELLI/BLOOMBERG

By Michael Stothard in Barcelona and Ian Mount in Girona
The Financial Times

Catalonia’s president said the region’s citizens had “earned the right to have an independent state” after more than 2m people defied Spanish government attempts to halt Sunday’s referendum and overwhelmingly backed independence.

“My government, in the next few days, will send the results of today’s vote to the Catalan parliament, where the sovereignty of our people lies,” Carles Puigdemont said in a televised address from Barcelona.

Late on Sunday the Catalan government said 90 per cent of the 2.26m votes cast — about 40 per cent of the 5.4m eligible voters — had been in favour of independence.

Mr Puigdemont’s comments came after a day of violence across the region.

Image may contain: 21 people, people smiling, crowd

Earlier, Spanish police had smashed their way into polling stations, hitting people with truncheons and firing rubber bullets in an attempt to stop a referendum that the country’s constitutional court had ruled illegal.

Catalan authorities said more than 760 people were injured when armed national police confiscated ballot boxes across Barcelona and other cities. Spain’s interior ministry said 11 police had been hurt trying to stop the vote.

The regional government claimed that 96 per cent of polling stations had been able to open for at least part of the day. It had previously said it would declare independence within 48 hours of a Yes vote.

In much of Catalonia, voting took place peacefully.

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As polls closed at 8pm, Mariano Rajoy, the Spanish prime minister, addressed the nation to say that the rule of law had prevailed and there had been “no self-determination referendum” in Catalonia. He told Catalan officials not to take “new steps that lead nowhere”, and called the vote an “attack on the rule of law”, claiming the majority of Catalans did not support independence.

“We did what we had to do,” he said. “We are the government of Spain, I am the prime minister and I assume my responsibilities.

“There was no referendum. What we have seen was a mere dramatisation.”

Shortly afterwards, Pedro Sánchez, the Socialist leader, condemned the violence of the day and called for talks between the two sides. He said that “opening a political negotiation channel” was “more urgent than ever”.

The crackdown drew condemnation from parts of Europe, including from Charles Michel, the Belgian prime minister.

Ada Colau, the mayor of Barcelona, called for the resignation of Mr Rajoy after what she denounced as “police action against a peaceful population”.

The vote threatens to trigger one of the gravest political and constitutional crises in Spain’s 40-year-old democracy.

Analysts said Mr Rajoy risked losing the political initiative because of the violence. “Two weeks ago, Rajoy had a powerful narrative to sell following the Catalan parliament’s breach of the constitution,” said Antonio Barroso, an analyst at Teneo Intelligence. “Sunday’s violence will make things harder for him.”

The independence drive was, in effect, aided by the 17,000-strong Catalan police force, which appeared unwilling to seize ballot boxes or stop the voting, drawing a stinging criticism from the national government.

Enric Millo, the Spanish government’s representative in Catalonia, criticised the local police for taking a “political line” and not enforcing the law to prevent the referendum taking place.

However, there were many scenes of confrontation, spurring condemnation of Spain from European politicians such as Mr Michel and Jeremy Corbyn, leader of Britain’s opposition Labour party.

In the town of Sant Julià de Ramis, Girona, about 60 national police forcibly removed voters from the polling place where Mr Puigdemont was scheduled to vote. As they dragged away voters who had locked arms in front of the polling station, the assembled crowd chanted “Votarem” — “We will vote”. Mr Puigdemont finally voted just before 10am local time at Cornellá de Terri.

At a Barcelona polling station, Isa, a schoolteacher, said of the police: “I was so afraid, they were so big and they grabbed me. It’s not going to stop me, though. I’m going to find somewhere else.”

In an attempt to facilitate the referendum, which Madrid says violates the Spanish constitution’s description of the country as “indivisible”, Catalan authorities announced that voters could cast their ballot in any part of the region.

The move led to a battle between Catalonia and Madrid in cyber space. Electoral volunteers at some voting stations said they were unable to access census data because the website that hosted it was down, while internet service has been cut in other stations.

The Catalan government’s plan to react to the vote could take the extreme step of declaring unilateral independence. This could in turn force the Spanish state to step in and temporarily suspend Catalan autonomy, taking Madrid into uncharted constitutional territory.
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https://www.ft.com/content/45585b06-a62b-11e7-ab55-27219df83c97

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See also The Telegraph:

Catalonian referendum violence plunges EU into crisis as ’90pc of voters back independence’

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/10/01/eu-crisis-catalonian-referendum-descends-violence/

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Spanish riot police in Barcelona on Sunday. Photograph by Emilio Morenatti for AP

“Yes” wins Catalonia independence vote marred by violence — 844 civilians treated in hospitals for injuries, plus 33 police officers

October 2, 2017

The Associated Press

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Catalonia’s regional government declared a landslide win for the “yes” side in a disputed referendum on independence from Spain that degenerated into mayhem Sunday, with more than 800 people injured as riot police attacked peaceful protesters and unarmed civilians trying to cast their ballots.

Catalonia has “won the right to become an independent state,” Catalan president Carles Puigdemont said after the polls closed, adding that he would keep his pledge to declare independence unilaterally if the “yes” side wins.

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

Catalan regional government spokesman Jordi Turull told reporters early Monday that 90 percent of the 2.26 million Catalans who voted chose the “yes” side in favor of independence. He said nearly 8 percent of voters rejected independence and the rest of the ballots were blank or void. He said 15,000 votes were still being counted.

The region has 5.3 million registered voters, and Turull said the number of ballots didn’t include those confiscated by Spanish police during violent raids that aimed to stop the vote.

Spanish riot police attacked peaceful protesters in Catalonia on Sunday to try to disrupt a banned independence vote, injuring more than 700 people as Spain’s constitutional crisis deepened. (Oct. 1)

No one knows what will happen if Catalan officials follow through on their pledge to use the vote as a basis for declaring independence, a provocation that would possible remove from Spain one of its most prosperous regions, including the coastal city of Barcelona, the regional capital.

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 only 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.

Catalans favoring a break with Spain have long wanted more than the limited autonomy they now have, 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.

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.

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 open the door 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.”

There was no organized campaign for the “no” side in the vote, which most national political parties boycotted because it lacked legal guarantees and was suspended by the courts. Polls in recent years have shown roughly half of the 7.5 million residents of the region want to remain a part of Spain.

Mari Martinez, a 43-year-old waitress, said she didn’t vote. “I don’t lean toward independence, because we are part of Spain,” she said. “Today’s violence is not good for anybody. We never should have gotten to this point. Politicians haven’t done their job, and they should have reached an agreement a long time ago.”

A member of the Israeli parliament, sent to observe 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 observers invited by Catalan officials. “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. A woman injured outside the building was 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.

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Associated Press writer Alex Oller contributed to this report from Barcelona, and Gregory Katz and Frank Griffiths contributed from London.

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Spanish riot police in Barcelona on Sunday. Photograph by Emilio Morenatti for AP

Over 460 People Injured in Catalonia During Referendum: Barcelona Mayor

October 1, 2017

MADRID — More than 460 people have been injured in disturbances across Catalonia on Sunday, the Barcelona mayor said, as riot police clashed with people who had gathered for a banned referendum on the region’s independence from the rest of Spain.

“As mayor of Barcelona I demand an immediate end to police charges against the defenseless population,” Ada Colau said in a statement.

In a separate statement, the Catalan health service said 465 had been hurt, with two in serious condition in hospital.

(Reporting by Sonya Dowsett; Writing by Paul Day; Editing by Adrian Croft)

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Image may contain: one or more people, people walking, people standing and outdoor

Spanish riot police in Barcelona on Sunday. Photograph by Emilio Morenatti for AP