Catalan referendum: Local police officer moved to tears as he protects protesters in Vielha

Members of the Mossos d'Esquadra are seen crying amid the chaos and violence which has dogged polling day

Caroline Mortimer
Wednesday 25 October 2017 10:28
Catalonian police officer moved to tears as he protects protesters

Members of the local Catalan police force were visibly moved to tears as they guarded protesters in the small town of Vielha on the French border amid scenes of violence across the region as it votes on independence from Spain.

Barcelona’s mayor says at least 460 people have been injured during violence while members of the Civil Guard, the Spanish military police, fired rubber bullets and used batons in an attempt to stop them voting in an independence referendum.

Witnesses say police were spotted beating and dragging people out of polling stations as they went to vote.

But members of the Mossos d'Esquadra, the local, autonomous Catalan police, have moved to protect the citizens from the violence.

Footage from the small town shows Catalans chanting and cheering behind a row of officers as two of the men become emotional.

One is seen wiping a tear from his eye and another buries his face in his hand to weep.

Like the other Spanish police forces the Mossos were told to shut down the polling stations early on Sunday and remove anyone who tries to sleep in the overnight, the New York Times reported.

The force, one of many Policia Local forces in each Spanish region, has found itself caught in the crossfire in recent months as the row between Barcelona and Madrid intensified.

Catalan firefighters protect public against police in Barcelona

A former director of the Mossos, Albert Batlle, was forced to resign in July after he was criticised by some separatists for refusing to publicly endorse Catalan independence.

The Catalan President, Carles Puigdemont, accused Spanish authorities of using “unjustified, disproportionate and irresponsible” violence in its crackdown on the region's independence referendum.

But Spanish deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said the police were following the orders of the Constitutional Court in Madrid which declared the referendum illegal.

The call for a referendum on Catalan independence has grown stronger in the past five years after the country emerged from a brutal recession.

The wealthy region, which is home to 16 per cent of Spain’s population but generates 19 per cent of its GDP, has begun to gripe at economically supporting other regions of the country.

But the fight over Catalan independence has been raging for generations.

Spain is made up of a number of different kingdoms which were absorbed into one country in the 16th century.

As a result every region maintains its own, unique regional identity but none more so than Catalonia and the nearby Basque country.

Catalonia has frequently revolted throughout the centuries and attempted to establish itself as an autonomous state several times only to be suppressed – most recently by General Francisco Franco at the end of the Spanish Civil War in 1939.

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