Thousands of Catalans have defied the Spanish government by taking part in a banned referendum for Catalan independence from Spain today. Reportedly, 337 people had been injured as a result of police brutality towards voters and the panic that ensued afterwards.
These events come following a number of arrests in the weeks leading up to the referendum.
Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont has accused the Spanish government of using “unjustified and irresponsible” means to stop voters “with truncheons against ballot boxes.” It is still unclear whether Puigdemont will announce the referendum result or not, as it is also unclear how far the police will intervene.
By Saturday, police had already closed off more than half of the schools in Catalonia that were supposed to be polling stations and Spanish officials said that voting would not take place.
Pro-independence supporters had other plans though, they had hoped police would be unable to stop them from voting and entering polling stations if they were in large enough groups.
Police forces deployed by the Madrid government have fired rubber bullets at voters and have used riot equipment on crowds. Police ripped ballot papers from the hands of voters and dragged them from polling stations beating some with batons. Voters chanted “we are people of peace” and “we are not afraid” at the violent police.
Madrid’s representative in Catalonia has stated that “the rule of law has dismantled the illegal referendum,” when speaking about the fact Spanish police officers were forced to take over from Catalan police when they failed to stop voters taking part in the referendum. “We’re being forced to do what we didn’t want to do,” he said in a televised statement.
Catalan has developed a separate language and culture from Spain, they have aspired for independence for decades, but in the past several years, those aspirations became more and more like a reality for the people of Catalonia. Although the Madrid government declared the referendum unconstitutional and had ordered the referendum not to take place, that did not stop Catalans lining up before sunrise to ensure that the voting would take place.
Although faced with opposition, the people of Catalan remained resilient and determined to vote.