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Violence erupts as Catalans vote on a referendum for independence from Spain

A vote on creating a Catalan autonomous state led to clashes at the ballot box.

Independence Referendum Takes Place In Catalonia
People hold up four fingers representing the four stripes of the Catalan flag while they wait to cast their referendum votes on October 1 in Barcelona, Spain.
Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Violence broke out early Sunday morning between Spanish police and Catalan separatists attempting to cast a ballot in a referendum on independence from Spain. The clashes took place in cities and towns in the Spanish autonomous region of Catalonia, which stretches up the Mediterranean coast from below Barcelona to the French border.

According to the Catalan government, at least 337 people were injured by Spanish police, who reportedly used rubber bullets to disperse crowds. Some 11 police officers were reported injured as well.

Earlier this summer, Catalan regional officials announced they would hold a referendum on creating a Catalan autonomous state from Spain on October 1.

One of 17 autonomous regions in Spain, Catalonia is one of the wealthiest and includes the city of Barcelona. It already has its own language (Catalan), and some Catalans would like complete control — a state fully independent from Spain.

But the Spanish government in Madrid argues such a vote is illegal on its face based on the 1978 Spanish Constitution, which calls for the “indissoluble unity of the Spanish Nation.”

This isn’t the first time Catalonia has attempted a referendum on secession — back in 2014 there was a similar vote, which was also seen as illegal.

This summer the Spanish government in Madrid attempted to nullify the vote in advance through a number of different measures. It asked the Catalan regional security forces, Mossos, to seal off voting centers — a decision backed by a court ruling. Mossos apparently did not do so. It has also “shut down websites and advertising campaigns that have promoted the vote. It has raided the offices of companies that would print the paper ballots,” according to the New York Times.

But Madrid and the courts’ rejection of and efforts to block the referendum have not made the regional separatists more sympathetic to remaining with Spain.

Independence Referendum Takes Place In Catalonia Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images

"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," Carles Puigdemont, Catalan regional president, told reporters today.

Many Spain watchers — even those who are not sympathetic to the Catalan separatists’ cause — believe the images of violence help the separatists.

Catalan journalist Mar Riera Solá shared this video:

Human Rights Watch has issued a statement on the violence and the vote:

The results of the referendum are due Sunday afternoon.

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