Spain’s wealthiest region held a controversial independence referendum on Sunday that has plunged the country into political chaos — and sparked outright violence.
Catalonia, which has its own distinct culture, history, and language, constitutes about 16 percent of Spain's population but accounts for roughly 19 percent of Spain’s gross domestic product. For decades, many Catalans (as people from the region are known) have pushed to secede from Spain and create their own independent country.
But the Spanish government is fiercely opposed to that idea because it doesn’t want to break up the country or lose one of its most prosperous regions. So when pro-independence leaders in Catalonia decided to call a referendum on independence on October 1, the Spanish government in Madrid declared it illegal and vowed to stop the vote at all costs.
The Catalonians decided to hold the vote anyway — it passed, with 90 percent voting for independence (though only 42 percent of eligible voters actually voted) — and all hell broke loose, with clashes between police and voters injuring nearly 900 people.
Here are 10 photos that help explain what’s going on.
1) The day of the referendum, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy vowed to “stop at nothing” to prevent the vote from happening
2) The government sent in thousands of police officers to block polling stations and confiscate ballot boxes
3) Some pro-independence voters built makeshift barriers in front of polling stations to try to keep police from storming in and confiscating ballot boxes
4) Millions of voters came out to cast their ballots despite the threat of police violence
5) And there was police violence
6) A whole lot of it — leaving nearly 900 people injured
7) Facing pressure to cancel their Sunday match because of the referendum controversy, Spain’s world-famous FC Barcelona soccer team chose to instead keep out all fans and play the game to an empty stadium in protest
8) Over the next few days, thousands of Catalans flooded the streets of Barcelona to protest the harsh police crackdown
9) They also held a general strike. Businesses were shuttered and public transport was completely shut down.
10) After several days of protest, Spain’s King Felipe VI delivered a speech saying that Catalan authorities have deliberately bent the law with "irresponsible conduct" and that the Spanish state needs to ensure constitutional order and the rule of law in Catalonia
The crisis continues.