Posts Tagged ‘referendum’

Rift appears in Catalan govt as Madrid power takeover begins

October 25, 2017

AFP

© AFP | Protesters wave Catalan flags during a pro-independence rally in Barcelona, on October 21, 2017

BARCELONA (AFP) – Several members of Catalonia’s separatist government told the region’s leader they want elections to avoid a power takeover by Madrid, a source close to him said Wednesday, as a rift appeared in the regional executive.

Many believe calling early elections would be an alternative to the region declaring independence, and thus a solution out of Spain’s worst political crisis in decades.

The crisis was sparked by a divisive independence referendum that went ahead on October 1 despite a court ban.

Several regional government members expressed their support for elections in a meeting on Tuesday with regional president Carles Puigdemont, said the source, who refused to be named.

Spain has vowed to start taking over Catalonia’s political power and finances in the coming days if it does not stop its independence drive.

Puigdemont’s ruling coalition is hugely disparate, with the far-left CUP and left-wing ERC parties that prop up his conservative PDeCAT grouping gunning for him to declare independence.

According to Catalan daily La Vanguardia, the meeting yielded “intense debate” and went on well into the night, with no decision reached.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy stressed that constitutional measures to take over Catalonia’s powers were “the only possible response” to Puigdemont’s independence push.

“I am fulfilling my obligation by implementing (constitutional article) 155, faced with contempt for our laws, the constitution, Catalonia’s status and contempt for millions of Catalan citizens who see that their government has liquidated the law,” he told parliament.

But implementing article 155 could spark unrest in the northeastern region which, though divided on independence, is fiercely protective of its language and autonomy.

On Wednesday, independence supporters were preparing to take to the streets again. Teachers were planning a rally in Barcelona, the Catalan capital, and grassroots organisations dubbed “committees to defend the referendum” were also due to protest.

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Catalans Do Not Declare Independence But Will Seek Independence by Negotiations With Spain

October 10, 2017

BBC News

President of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, speaks in his address to the Catalan Parliament at the Palau del Parlament de Catalunya on October 10, 2017 in Barcelona, Spain
Mr Puigdemont said the “people’s will” was to break away from Madrid. Getty

Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont has said his people voted for independence from Spain – but that he wants a negotiated solution with Madrid.

He asked the regional parliament in Barcelona to suspend the effect of the vote so talks could begin – rather than breaking away immediately.

A vote on 1 October resulted in almost 90% of voters backing independence, Catalan officials say.

Madrid said it was illegal and Spain’s Constitutional Court suspended it.

No voters largely boycotted the referendum ballot – which had a reported turnout of 43% – and there were several reports of irregularities.

National police were involved in violent scenes as they manhandled voters.

Mr Puigdemont told the regional parliament that the “people’s will” was to break away from Madrid, but he also said he wanted to “de-escalate” the tension around the issue .

He hailed the referendum process and condemned the actions of the Spanish government, but acknowledged that people on all sides were worried about what would happen next.

“We are all part of the same community and we need to go forward together. The only way forward is democracy and peace,” he told deputies.

But he also said Catalonia was being denied the right to self-determination, and paying too much in taxes to the central government in Madrid.

Catalan police have been posted outside the parliament in Barcelona, sealing off the grounds to the public. A large pro-independence rally is currently taking place in the area.

People attend a pro-independence rally near the Catalan regional parliament in Barcelona, Spain October 10, 2017
A pro-independence rally was held near the Catalan regional parliament in Barcelona. Reuters
Catalonia's regional police force, the Mossos d'Esquadra, guard the regional assembly parliament building in Barcelona, 10 October 2017
Armed police were deployed outside the parliament. Reuters Photo

Standard & Poors Considers Downgrading Catalonia’s debt rating

October 5, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | Pro-referendum demonstrators gather in front of a building with a banner reading ‘Welcome to the Catalan republic’ during a protest near the Economy headquarters of Catalonia’s regional government in Barcelona, on September 20, 2017

PARIS (AFP) – The international credit rating agency Standard & Poors said it may downgrade the sovereign debt rating of Catalonia in the next three months as tensions with Madrid escalate over the region’s push for independence.

“S&P Global Ratings placed its ratings on the Autonomous Community of Catalonia on CreditWatch with negative implications,” the rating agency said in a statement released late on Wednesday.

“The Catalan government’s political confrontation with Spain’s central government has escalated following a referendum in Catalonia on October 1 on the region’s independence,” the statement said.

“We see a risk that this escalation may damage the coordination and communication between the two governments, which is essential to Catalonia’s ability to service its debt on time and in full.”

As a result, S&P said it would place Catalonia’s ratings — currently “B+/B” — “on CreditWatch with negative implications.”

The agency said it expected to “resolve the CreditWatch within the next three months.”

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In Spain’s worst political crisis in decades, Catalonia held an independence referendum on Sunday, although the vote was banned by Madrid.

Images of police beating unarmed Catalans taking part in the vote sparked global concern.

Spain’s key IBEX 35 stock index plunged by more than three percent Wednesday in the ongoing turbulence, with some big Catalan banks down more than five percent.

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See also:

Catalan Customers Torn on Who to Bank With on Secession Fear

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-10-04/catalan-depositors-torn-on-who-to-bank-with-amid-secession-fears

Catalan leader says region will declare independence ‘in matter of days’ — Spain’s King Felipe VI ratcheted up tensions by urging authorities to defend “constitutional order”

October 4, 2017

AFP

© Lluis Gene, AFP | Catalonia’s leader Carles Puigdemont says the region has won the right to break away from Spain after 90% of voters backed independence in a banned referendum on Sunday.

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2017-10-04

Spain was braced for further political upheaval Wednesday after Catalonia’s leader said the region would declare independence “in a matter of days”, just hours after King Felipe VI urged Spanish authorities to defend “constitutional order”.

Carles Puigdemont said his government would “act at the end of this week or the beginning of next”, the Catalan regional leader told the BBC in an interview Tuesday.

 
Spanish King Felipe VI giving a speech on Catalonian referendum

He spoke after hundreds of thousands of Catalans rallied in fury over violence by police against voters during a banned referendum on independence for their region on Sunday.

The central government and national courts branded the referendum illegal.

But Catalan leaders claimed the results showed the region had the right to secede and said they may unilaterally declare independence.

“We are going to declare independence 48 hours after all the official results are counted,” Puigdemont said in the interview.

His remarks came hours after Spain’s King Felipe VI ratcheted up tensions by urging authorities to defend “constitutional order”.

Felipe’s dramatic intervention late Tuesday aimed to calm Spain’s deepest political crisis in decades, but risked further fanning resentment in the region.

Felipe, 49, abandoned his previously measured tone over tensions with Catalonia, accusing its leaders of acting outside the law.

“With their irresponsible conduct they could put at risk the economic and social stability of Catalonia and all of Spain,” he said.

“It is the responsibility of the legitimate state powers to ensure constitutional order.”

‘Fuel to the fire’

Felipe repeated his earlier calls for harmony between Spaniards.

But after Sunday’s violence it was a delicate balancing act for a Spanish sovereign.

People watching in a bar in Barcelona whistled and booed after the king’s speech.

“It is a real disgrace… Far from solving anything it has added fuel to the fire,” said Domingo Gutierrez, a 61-year-old trucker.

“He did not say a word about the people who were injured… I have never been pro-independence, my parents are from Andalucia. But now I am more for independence than anyone, thanks to people like that.”

Catalans denounce ‘occupation’

Police unions and political experts warned that Spain’s government risks losing control of the north eastern region.

It is considered Spain’s worst political crisis since an attempted military coup in 1981.

That was defused by Felipe’s father, King Juan Carlos I, also in a stern television appearance.

Hundreds of thousands of protesters in Barcelona on Tuesday yelled for national security forces to get out of the region, branding them “occupation forces”.

In Sunday’s disturbances, Puigdemont said nearly 900 people had received medical attention, though local authorities confirmed a total of 92 injured.

Four were hospitalised, two in serious condition. The national government said more than 400 police officers were hurt.

Government ‘losing control’

Angry protesters rallied outside Catalan hotels where state security forces were lodged, police groups said on Tuesday.

Two hotels said they made police officers who were staying there leave, on the orders of local officials.

Spanish authorities “are losing control, it is clear”, Javier Perez Royo, a constitutional law professor at the University of Seville, told AFP.

‘Inciting rebellion’

A rich industrial region of 7.5 million people, Catalonia accounts for a fifth of Spain’s economy.

It has its own language and cultural traditions.

Its claims for independence date back centuries but have surged during recent years of economic crisis.

Madrid blames the Catalan regional authorities for the tensions.

“The government of Catalonia is pushing the population to the abyss and inciting rebellion in the streets,” Spain’s Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido said on Tuesday.

He said his government would take “all measures necessary to stop acts of harassment”.

Catalans split

Puigdemont’s regional government claimed that 2.26 million people took part in the poll, or just over 42 percent of the electorate — but the vote was held without regular electoral lists or observers.

Puigdemont has said he will present the results to the region’s parliament, where separatist lawmakers hold a majority — a step towards a possible declaration of independence.

The regional government said 90 percent of those who voted backed independence, but polls indicate Catalans are split.

Puigdemont has called for international mediation in the crisis. The European Union’s executive commission has voiced concern.

The European Parliament was scheduled to debate the Catalonia crisis on Wednesday.

(AFP)

‘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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A Look at What Might Happen if Catalonia Goes It Alone — Expelled from EU?

October 3, 2017

MADRID — The northeastern region of Catalonia, one of Spain’s autonomous regions, is threatening to declare its independence from Spain following a disputed referendum that, it says, gave it a mandate to break away.

Spain, which declared the referendum illegal and invalid, says it will do all to maintain the country’s unity and keep hold of the region of 7.5 million people centered around the port city of Barcelona.

The two would seem to be about to enter uncharted waters. Here’s a look at how Spain got to this point and what may happen next.

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DECLARING INDEPENDENCE

Catalan regional President Carles Puigdemont says he will keep his pledge to declare independence unilaterally following a claimed win for the “Yes” side in Sunday’s disputed referendum.

The pro-independence leader says that under a Catalan law a win with more than 50 percent of “Yes” votes triggers a declaration of independence within 48 hours of the vote, regardless of the fact that the vote was held in extremely precarious circumstances and that turnout — even if true —was less than half of the electorate. That law was suspended by Spain’s Constitutional Court, but Puigdemont and his government seem set to ignore this.

The independence declaration could happen as early as Wednesday or Thursday when the regional parliament meets.

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WOULD CATALONIA BE RECOGNIZED AS A SEPARATE COUNTRY?

So far no country or international body has expressed any support for the Catalan government’s independence drive, so any declaration of independence is likely to be rejected, at the beginning at least. The European Union is standing solidly behind Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and says Catalonia would be expelled from the bloc and the shared euro currency.

Economically it is impossible to predict if it could survive. Catalonia has an annual gross domestic product of about 215 billion euros ($257 billion) — the largest of the Spanish regions and greater than Greece’s — but many of its goods are supplied by the Spanish state.

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WHAT IMMEDIATE CHANGES MIGHT BE EXPECTED?

Besides the removal of Spanish flags from official buildings, it(asterisk)s hard to see what else Catalan authorities could do. The feeling is that the declaration would be a symbolic one. Catalonia does not have security forces sufficient to set up borders and key areas such as taxes, foreign affairs, defense, ports, airports and trains are in the hands of the Spanish government in Madrid. Spain also recently took virtually full control of Catalonia’s spending.

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SPAIN’S OPTIONS

Spain has two main options and both would be painful. The constitution’s Article 155 allows the government to suspend, totally or partially, any region’ self-government if it disobeys its constitutional obligations or attacks the general interests of Spain. Catalonia would first be warned and if it didn’t rectify, the measures decided upon would be put to the Senate for approval, a simple matter for Rajoy as his party has a majority.

Possible measures could include placing the region’s police under Spanish control. If necessary, Spanish police could enforce the measures.

The other, more extreme alternative would be to declare a state of siege, should Spain’s sovereignty be considered under attack — which a declaration of independence might constitute — and this could allow for the suspension of civil rights and imposition of martial law. It would need to be debated and approved by the lower house of parliament, a difficult matter as Rajoy lacks a majority there.

Neither option is likely to happen overnight.

“The situation is really serious in Spain now,” said constitutional law professor Fernando Simon of Spain’s University of Navarra, who said Catalonia was basically already in a state of rebellion. He said either option would mean Spain would enter unknown territory.

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A COMPROMISE

Given the current state of affairs this is the most desirable for all, but with neither side backing down, the least likely to happen.

Both sides say they are open to dialogue but both put up conditions unacceptable to the other. Rajoy had insisted he couldn’t discuss a referendum unless the constitution was changed, and invited Catalonia to work on changing it. The Catalan government said its right to self-determination must be respected first before talks could proceed. Catalonia now wants the EU to intervene, an unlikely prospect, and calls for international mediation, something Spain is not likely to agree to.

Catalan Commission to Investigate Claims of Abuse During Banned Referendum

October 2, 2017

MADRID — Catalonia will create a special commission to investigate claims of abuse by Spanish police during a banned referendum on independence on Sunday after more than 800 people were left injured, leader of region Carles Puigdemont said on Monday.

Thousands of Spanish police were shipped in to the region to prevent the vote on secession though scenes of violence due to heavy-handed tactics by armoured, baton-carrying riot units have received international condemnation.

The vote which the constitutional court banned and Madrid said was illegal, yet still attracted millions of defiant voters, was valid and binding, Puigdemont said during a conference.

The Catalan leader said he had had no contact with Spain’s central government and called on Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to say whether he was in favour of mediation in talks over the region’s future, which should be overseen by the European Union.

(Reporting by Inmaculada Sanz; Writing by Paul Day; Editing by Sonya Dowsett)

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.

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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