Though the results of today's referendum have yet to be announced, separatists in Catalonia are urging the government to declare independence from Spain, citing today's violent crackdown as the reason. In a rousing speech following the close of voting, Carles Puigdemont, the leader of the Catalan government, said his citizens have earned the right to form an independent state and that the results of the referendum, to be announced shortly, will be sent to the local parliament for ratification.
Though the central government in Spain declared the refendum illegal, and sent federal Civil Guard and National Police forces to try and suppress the vote in a dramatic crackdown that sent shockwaves around the globe, police only managed to shut down a small sliver of polling stations, allowing many in the region of more than 7 million people which has a larger economy than Portugal, to cast ballots.
In his public remarks, delivered shortly after a speech from Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, Puigdemont also said that "with this day of hope and suffering, the citizens of Catalonia have won the right to an independent state in the form a republic." He also said that the EU could no longer “continue to look the other way” from human rights violations around the referendum, according to a translation in the Guardian.
"The Spanish government has today written a shameful page in its relationship with Catalonia," adding that there had been abuses of human rights committed by Spanish police.
Puigdemont added that he will keep his pledge to declare independence unilaterally if the "Yes" side wins. A law passed by the Catalan parliament says a win of more than 50% for the "Yes" side will trigger a declaration of independence within 48 hours of the vote regardless of the turnout. He appealed to European leaders, saying the Catalan crisis was "no longer an internal Spanish matter".
"The Catalan government will transmit to the Catalan Parliament, the seat and expression of the sovereignty of our people, the results of the referendum, so that it can act according to that laid out in the referendum law", he said.
Spain's Constitutional Court suspended the regional law governing the independence referendum, but Puigdemont's government pushed ahead with the vote anyway, as the Associated Press noted. So far, 844 people and 33 police have been injured in the day's demonstrations.
Meanwhile, Barcelona Mayor Ada Colaucalled for Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to resign after the shocking brutality that federal police sent by the government in Madrid demonstrated. Police attacked peaceful demonstrators, punched and kicked voters and dragged some from polling places.
Mayor Ada Colau told a local television station that "Rajoy has been a coward, hiding behind the prosecutors and courts. Today he crossed all the red lines with the police actions against normal people, old people, families who were defending their fundamental rights."
"It seems obvious to me that Mariano Rajoy should resign."
Mirroring Puigdemont's comments, Colau said that Catalans had "earned the right to demand" a proper vote on independence from Spain, adding that "the European Union must take a stand on what has happened in Catalonia.
Rajoy in a speech earlier in the evening declared that the referendum was illegitimate, and that no vote had even taken place, eliciting calls for his resignation from local officials. Government officials from across Europe criticized Rajoy for the violent crackdown.
But perhaps the most amusing criticism came from Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro who on Sunday slammed Rajoy for trying to halt the referendum, saying the conservative leader was a hypocrite for supporting Venezuela’s opposition while cracking down on dissent at home.
“Who is the dictator?” said Maduro at the start of his hours-long Sunday television show. “Mariano Rajoy has chosen blood, sticks, blows, and repression against a noble people. Our hand goes out to the people of Catalonia. Resist, Catalonia! Latin America admires you,” added Maduro.
Spain has been a vocal critic of Maduro's regime, accusing him of undermining Venezuela’s democracy and plunging the country’s 30 million people into the direst poverty because of his government's economic mismanagement. Maduro seized on the images of Spanish riot police bursting into polling stations across Catalonia on Sunday, confiscating ballot boxes and voting papers, as evidence that it is Rajoy who lacks democratic credentials. Venezuela’s opposition responded by accusing Maduro of hypocrisy, saying the Venezuelan leader violently clamped down on four months of protests demanding humanitarian aid, early elections, and respect for the opposition-led Congress.