Rabat - Tension has mounted in the northern Spanish region of Catalonia as police intervened to stop independence vote.
Rabat – Tension has mounted in the northern Spanish region of Catalonia as police intervened to stop independence vote.
Thousands of local residents headed to polling stations on Sunday to cast their vote in a referendum marked by increasing and renewed tension between Madrid and the local government.
As several international media outlets reported, chaos erupted when police tried to stop people from casting their votes.
Videos and pictures were published where voters are seen colliding with police officers. Police were picture and filmed firing rubber bullets and tear gas and using batons against protesters.
Police intervention left several people injured. Several voters were pictured with blooded faces and torn off clothes.
— nete bab (@ntebdwa) October 1, 2017
Pro-referendum protesters tried to prevent members of the Spanish Guardia Civil from getting into polling station. As the police tried to make their way through, several protesters suffered injuries, including cuts and bruises. Media reports indicated that 38 people have been injured during the clashes.
A gruesome video shows policemen, in riot gear, kick voters, push or pull them from the hair to make their way through to a polling station.
— Phil Teddy (@Philteddylfc) October 1, 2017
Police stormed into polling stations and seized ballot boxes to enforce a decision of the central government banning the referendum.
— LluísDomènechMontané (@PassaportCatala) October 1, 2017
The chief representative of the Spanish government in Catalonia said the Guardia Civil and National Police had to take action amid the refusal of the Catalan regional Mossos d’Esquadra force to intervene.
The Spanish Ministry of Interior urged citizens not to obstruct police work as they seize electoral material.
The police intervention drew criticism from prominent Catalan sports figures. Former and current stars of FC Barcelona, the club symbolising the local pride, expressed their support for the referendum.
In a video published on Twitter, Xavi Hernandez, the club’s former icon called in the intervention an “embarrassment”, saying Catalans should have the right to express themselves.
Carles Puyol, former Barcelona defender and captain tweeted “voting is democracy”.
The club’s current star Gerard Piqué published a picture of himself inside a polling station with a comment advocating for the right to vote.
Ja he votat. Junts som imparables defensant la democràcia. pic.twitter.com/mGXf7Qj1TM
— Gerard Piqué (@3gerardpique) October 1, 2017
The referendum in Catalonia is seen by some as the biggest political challenge Spain is facing since the failure of a military coup in February 1981.
Madrid maintains the independence vote poses a threat to democracy and the country’s unity while Catalans, for long at odds with the central government, defend their right to choose whether to remain in Spain or gain independence.
Catalans went ahead with their plans to hold the vote despite Madrid’s crackdown in September when local governments were arrested and voting documents were seized by the Guardia Civil.