Update (6:30 pm ET): In further proof that Spain's brutal crackdown on today's Catalan independence referendum only helped bolster the seccessionist cause, the regional government announced that voters had overwhelmingly voted in favor of independence, with 89% voting to separate from Spain.
Shortly after midnight on Sunday, Catalan government spokesman Jordi Turull announced that 2,262,424 ballot papers had been counted. There were 2,020,144 "yes" votes, or just under 90% of the total, and just 176,565 "no" votes.
The regional government has promised to officially declare independence within 48 hours.
Even though Spanish authorities ruled that the vote was illegal, Dimitrij Rupel, head of the International Parliamentary delegation on Catalonia’s referendum, said at a news conference in Barcelona on Sunday that the referendum on independence was prepared in agreement with Spanish existing legislation, potentially setting up the regional government for a legal battle.
In a speech earlier this evening, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who tried to suppress the vote by jailing public officials, shutting down electronic voting systems, ordering police to manually destroy ballots and seal off polling places, declared that no referendum had taken place.
All eyes now turn to Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont as tensions between Spain and its restive state are expected to come to a head, as the prospect of intensifying street violence looms.
Update (5:30 pm ET): 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 its citizens had earned the right to form an independent state and said the results of the referendum, which are not yet known, will be sent to the local parliament to be ratified.
Though the central government in Spain declared the refendum illegal, and send federal Civil Guard and National Police forces to try and suppress the vote, 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 public remarks delivered following a speech from Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, Puigdemont 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 have been injured, including 33 police, 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.
Spain has been a vocal critic of leftist Maduro, 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.
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Update (4:15 pm ET): As promised, Barcelona FC played its season opening against Las Palmas to an empty stadium to protest the brutal actions of the Spanish government. In a statement released earlier, the team said it had asked the Professional Football League to postpone the game because of today's referendum, but it had refused.
Polls across the region have now closed, but because many of the region's centralized voting systems have been cut off by Spanish authorities, the regional government hasn't been able to provide estimates for turnout. Counting the votes could take time. However, the Catalan government has said it would declare independence within 48 hours should the vote be in favor of leaving.
...Meanwhile, the number injured in today's unrest has climbed above 750.
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Update (12:30 pm ET): Clashes between riot police and voters in Barcelona and other towns and cities across Catalonia have left hundreds injured as police beat peaceful demonstrators with sticks and fired rubber bullets into crowds. The clashes, which have been well-documented by journalists and members of the public, are resulting in a massive public embarassment for the government in Madrid, as photos of elderly Catalonian pensioners with blood streaming down their faces have flooded the internet.
According to the Catalonian health ministry, 465 people have been injured during today's demonstrations, including at least nine local police officers and three Civil Guard officers. Here's a breakdown via the Guardian: 216 were hurt in Barcelona, 80 in Girona, 64 in Lleida, 53 in Terres de l’Ebre, 27 in Catalunya central and 25 in Tarragona.
Despite the crackdown, the Guardian reports that the majority of polling stations in the province have remained open. Spanish national police have closed down 46 in total (27 in Barcelona, six in Tarragona, six in Girona and seven in Lleida). The Guardia Civil have closed another 46 (14 in Barcelona, 12 in Tarragona, eight in Girona and 12 in Lleida). Catalan police, the Mossos, say they have closed 244 polling stations across Catalonia. In total, 336 polling stations have been shuttered. To put this in context, the Catalan government said more than 2,000 polling stations were set up across the province for the referendum. Meanwhile, the Spanish government said that three people, including one girl, have been arrested for civil disobedience and attacking officers.
The shocking photos have provoked widespread condemnation. In the UK, Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn urged Prime Minister Theresa May to urge Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy to end the crackdown.
I urge @Theresa_May to appeal directly to Rajoy to end police violence in Catalonia & find political solution to this constitutional crisis.— Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) October 1, 2017
A solidarity march with Catalonia is taking place outside the European Union offices in Edinburgh.
All elements of Catalonian society have pitched in to try and protect voters from brutal police tactics. This video emerged showing Catalonian firemen being beaten with sticks by the police.
We thought we had seen it all. The Spanish police battering the Catalonian Fire Service tells us this is sickening. pic.twitter.com/SwMOkm4kjG— YES East Kilbride (@EKsaysYES) October 1, 2017
The Mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, has demanded that the government in Madrid put an end to the violence.
Over 460 people injured in Catalonia already. As Mayor of BCN I demand an immediate end to police charges against the defenceless population https://t.co/412z6Jacap— Ada Colau (@AdaColau) October 1, 2017
According to the FT, police confiscated voting papers and ballot boxes in Barcelona and elsewhere and fired rubber bullets to disperse crowds at the Ramon Llull school in Barcelona, a polling station in the city.. However, elsewhere in Catalonia, voting was carried out peacefully with the 17,000-strong local police force apparently being less interventionist in stopping the polling at certain stations. Since there is no electoral commission overseeing the referendum, little authoritative information was immediately available on the turnout for the vote and how it complied with normal standards. Police were ordered to shut down the region's electronic vote-counting system earlier in the week, meaning it could be a while before the results start coming in.
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Update (10:30 am ET): The number of people injured in clashes between pro-independence voters and riot police dispatched to the restive region by the government in Madrid has climbed to 337, including at least 11 police officers, the Daily Star reports.
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Update (10 am ET): In a statement condeming the Spanish government's efforts to stamp out the "free expression" of the Catalan people, FC Barcelona announced that it will be playing today's match against Las Palmas, its first of the season, behind closed doors after the Professional Football League refused to postpone it.
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Update (9:15 am ET): So far, Catalonian emergency services says that 91 people have been injured in violent clashes between Catalonians trying to vote in today's "illegal" independence, according to AFP.
Among the injured, 11 are police officers.
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In scenes one would expect to see in Turkey, or some token third-world dictatorship, on Sunday morning Spanish riot police violently cracked down on the scheduled Catalan independence referendum, smashing their way into polling stations in Catalonia in a dramatic quest to shut down the banned Catalan independence referendum, as they fired rubber bullets and brutally beat peaceful people trying to vote for or against independence from a Spanish government, which many commentators this morning have called "fascist."
Police fired rubber bullets in central Barcelona, El Periodico newspaper reported, at the intersection of two streets as violence erupted during the vote which has thrown Spain into its worst constitutional crisis for decades.
According to Reuters, Catalan emergency services said at least 38 people were hurt as a result of police action, although as the footage below shows the final number will likely be orders of magnitude greater.
As Conflicts creator Gissur Simonarson said, "Looking at the footage from Spain. It's clear the policy got an order to break this up by any means. They are tossing ppl like rag dolls" adding that "The Spanish government has managed to turn me from indifferent/against #CatalanReferendum to a supporter."
Looking at the footage from Spain. It's clear the policy got an order to break this up by any means. They are tossing ppl like rag dolls.— Gissur Simonarson (@GissiSim) October 1, 2017
Police burst into the polling station in a town in Girona province minutes before Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont was due to vote there. They smashed glass panels to force open the door as voters, fists in the air, sang the Catalan anthem.
Officers with riot shields jostled with hundreds of voters outside one station at a school in Barcelona as the crowd chanted “We are people of peace!” Armored vans and an ambulance were parked nearby.
The referendum has been declared illegal by Spain’s central government in Madrid, which says the constitution states the country is indivisible and has drafted in thousands of police from around Spain into Catalonia to prevent the vote.
The Catalan regional government had scheduled voting to open at 9 a.m. (0700 GMT) at around 2,300 stations, but Madrid said on Saturday it had shut more than half of them. Voting started at some sites in the region of 7.5 million people, which has its own language and culture and is an industrial hub with an economy larger than that of Portugal. Leader Puigdemont changed plans and voted at a different station after the police action, the regional government said.
As Reuters adds, people had occupied some stations with the aim of preventing police from locking them down. Organizers smuggled in ballot boxes before dawn and urged voters to use passive resistance against police. In a school used as a polling station in Barcelona, police in riot gear carried out ballot boxes while would-be voters chanted “out with the occupying forces!” and “we will vote!”.
The Catalan government said voters could print out ballot papers at home and lodge them at any polling station not closed down by police.
“I have got up early because my country needs me,” said Eulalia Espinal, 65, a pensioner who started queuing with around 100 others outside one polling station, a Barcelona school, in rain at about 5 a.m. “We don’t know what’s going to happen but we have to be here,” she said.
A minority of around 40 percent of Catalans support independence, polls show, although a majority want to hold a referendum on the issue. A “yes” result is likely in the referendum, given most of those who support independence are expected to cast ballots while most of those against it are not.
Furthermore, the ballot will have no legal status as it has been blocked by Spain’s Constitutional Court and Madrid has the ultimate power under its 1978 charter to suspend the regional government’s authority to rule if it declares independence. In other words, Madrid could have led the referendum pass, declared it illegal, and soon most would forget. Instead, as Simonarson adds, "I'm shocked and disgusted by how Spain has dealt with #CatalanReferendum. If there isn't a violent response to this, I'll be shocked."
Organizers had asked voters to turn out before dawn, hoping for large crowds to be the world’s first image of voting day.
“This is a great opportunity. I’ve waited 80 years for this,” said 92-year-old Ramon Jordana, a former taxi driver waiting to vote in Sant Pere de Torello, a town in the foothills of the Pyrenees and a pro-independence bastion. He had wrapped his wrists in Catalan flags, among 100-150 people who gathered at a local school that had been listed as a polling station, ready to block any police from entering. A tractor also stood guard, though no police had yet arrived.
As reported before, leading up to the referendum Spanish police arrested Catalan officials, seized campaigning leaflets and occupied the Catalan government’s communications hub. But Catalan leaders urged voters to turn out in a peaceful expression of democracy. Families have occupied scores of schools earmarked as voting centers, sleeping overnight in an attempt to prevent police from sealing them off.
“If I can’t vote, I want to turn out in the streets and say sincerely that we want to vote,” said independence supporter Jose Miro, a 60-year-old schools inspector. Only the Catalan police, or Mossos d‘Esquadra, had so far been monitoring polling stations. They are held in affection by Catalans, especially after they hunted down Islamists accused of staging deadly attacks in the region in August.
But national police, who have been drafted into Catalonia in their thousands, stepped in to grab ballot boxes and close stations on Sunday once it became clear the regional police was not clearing sites.
Pro-independence Puigdemont originally said that if the “yes” vote won, the Catalan government would declare independence within 48 hours, but regional leaders have since acknowledged Madrid’s crackdown has undermined the vote.
Perhaps now it is time for the liberal press to explain how sometimes democracy also dies in broad daylight. And while we await to see how this dramatic crackdown against democracy ends, here are some more shocking videos of Spain's brutal crackdown on democracy.