By Martin Arostegui
Spanish government efforts to block a regional referendum on Catalonia’s secession, have spiraled into violence injuring more than 750 people as police shut down polling stations and confiscated ballot boxes, despite resistance by voters throughout the region.
According to Catalan officials more than 761 people are being treated for injuries sustained in clashes that are intensifying as voter frustration grows at police patrols moving through Barcelona and other Catalan cities.
Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said Sunday in Madrid, “There has been no referendum or appearance of any.” She said police dismantling of internet connections to the regional census bureau has neutralized any ability to formulate voting results.
But spokesmen for the Catalan regional government that called for the vote, say at 73 percent of voting stations are open and their own technicians are trying to fix downed internet lines.
Catalan government spokesman Jordi Turull admits those going to the polls were “not able to vote with normality because police shut down 319 out of 2,315 polling stations.”
A Catalan official connected with the regional election commission that resigned last week under government threats of massive fines said voting results will be announced after midnight or sometime Monday.
The source, speaking to VOA on condition of anonymity, says votes will be counted manually and results announced by a special election board being formed by “experts and academics”.
Spanish Interior minister Juan Ignacio Zoido says that attempts to legitimize today’s vote are a “parody”.
Violence erupted early in the day when police prevented the president of the Catalan regional government, Carles Puigdemont, from casting a ballot in his home district of Gerona. Police in riot gear charged a crowd that tried to surround them at the polling station, hitting one protestor in the eye with a rubber bullet.
Puigdemont was later filmed voting at another polling station. Catalan authorities urged voters to cast ballots at any open polling station they could find. In some cases people have been casting votes in ballot boxes set up on the streets.
“The Spanish state has prevented Catalans from exercising their rights, giving a terrible image of Spain,” Puigdemont told journalists.
Spanish police officials say that they were let down by the Catalan regional police force who had assured them that they would not allow polling stations to open.
Hastily organized interventions by Spain’s national police and the civil guard gendarmerie raiding polling stations once voting was already underway, led to embarrassing scenes of hooded policemen forcefully removing ballot boxes and abusing voters.
By midafternoon balloting seemed to be proceeding normalcy at some main voting stations.
The mainstream social democratic opposition party, PSOE which at first supported the conservative government’s hard line policy towards Catalan secession, called on Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and Puigdemont to resign and call new elections.
In an apparent protest against the central government’s efforts to abort the referendum, Barcelona’s star soccer team canceled a match with another Spanish team that announced it would play with Spain’s colors sewed on its jerseys.
Under the threat of sanctions from Spain’s football association, the Barcelona team finally agreed to play a closed door match with the team from the Canary Islands, where support for the central government is strong.
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