Catalan independence referendum: Massive majority votes 'Yes', regional government says

Spain's national police start seizing ballot boxes and voting papers from Catalan polling stations

Jon Sharman,May Bulman,Caroline Mortimer
Saturday 30 September 2017 17:01 BST
Riot police clash with voters as polls open in Catalonia's independence referendum

Spanish police have clashed with voters as thousands of people flocked to the polls to vote in the Catalonia independence referendum.

There are reports that as many as 844 people were hurt as officers deployed by the Madrid government fired rubber bullets and used riot equipment on defiant crowds.

Riot police smashed their way into a polling station in an unsuccessful attempt to stop the region's president voting in the banned ballot.

Civil Guard officers with shields used a hammer to smash the glass of the front door of the voting centre and lock-cutters to force their way in.

Scuffles erupted outside between police and people waiting to vote at the polling centre in Sant Julia de Ramis.

People waiting to vote chanted “we are people of peace” and “we are not afraid”.

But despite the violence, the Catalan government has declared an overwhelming victory for the Yes campaign despite the violence.

It says 90 per cent of the 2.26 million voters who cast a ballot voted for independence – a turnout of 42.3 per cent.

It is unclear what will happen next but Catalonia's President Carles Puigdemont has already said he will unilaterally declare independence from Spain within 48 hours if the region votes Yes.

But Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has remained defiant, saying the Catalans had been tricked into taking part in a fake vote as "there was no independence referendum today".

He accused the regional government of using the referendum as a strategy against legality and democratic harmony and was a "path that leads to nowhere".

It comes after a number of arrests in recent weeks of local government figures. Police also confiscated millions of ballot papers and sealed off hundreds of polling stations.

Spain’s constitutional court has ruled the referendum is at odds with the country’s constitution, and any result will have no legal status.

The main civic group behind Catalonia’s push for independence says a turnout of 1 million voters – less than a fifth of the electorate – would make the region’s secession referendum an “overwhelming success” given the Spanish government’s crackdown.

Catalonia is a wealthy region within Spain with its own language and culture. Should the vote take place, a “yes” vote is likely, given that most of the 40 percent of Catalans who polls show support independence are expected to cast ballots while most of those against it are not.

Hundreds gathered in the centre of Spanish capital Madrid national Spanish flags. They chanted ”Spanish unity” and “Don’t fool us – Catalonia is Spain”. Many balconies in the capital are draped with the red and yellow Spanish flag.

Some sang the Spanish fascist anthem ‘Facing the Sun’, a hymn often played during the dictatorship of Francisco Franco.

The polling stations are due to close at 8pm local time (7pm UK time).

Additional reporting by agencies

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