By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — The leader of Catalonia opened the door to a unilateral declaration of independence after regional officials said more than 90 percent of Catalans voted in favor of a split from Spain in a referendum called illegal by national authorities in Madrid.
Catalan President Carles Puigdemont on October 1 told a televised address that “on this day of hope and suffering, Catalonia’s citizens have earned the right to have an independent state in the form of a republic.”
“My government, in the next few days will send the results of today’s vote to the Catalan Parliament, where the sovereignty of our people lies, so that it can act in accordance with the law of the referendum,” Puigdemont added.
Before the referendum, opinion polls indicated a minority of around 40 percent of the region’s total 7.5 million people supported independence, although a majority of residents in the region nonetheless wanted a referendum to take place.
Many of those opposed to independence had been expected to boycott the vote, leaving the “yes” side a likely clear favorite to prevail.
The referendum and subsequent police actions surrounding the vote have raised tensions in the Catalan region and throughout the rest of Spain.
The referendum was banned by Spain’s Constitutional Court, which ruled it violated the 1978 constitution that restored democracy in Spain following the death of dictator General Francisco Franco.
Catalonia’s authorities said at least 844 people “required medical attention” in violence related to the vote as officers in riot gear raided public buildings to prevent them from being used as polling stations.
Police said at least 33 law-enforcement officers were also injured.
Spanish Prime Minister Firm Against Catalan Referendum
Reports said riot police smashed their way into some polling stations and fired rubber bullets outside at least one central Barcelona location as violence broke out.
RFE/RL Belarus Service correspondent Alyaksey Znatkevich reported clashes outside a polling station set up at an elderly nursing home in Barcelona’s Raval district.
“People were not allowing the police — there were several policemen — trying to break into this voting station to probably confiscate ballot boxes,” Znatkevich said via phone from Barcelona. “People blocked the street and some people were throwing things at the police, including road cones.”
“The police were shooting probably rubber bullets in the air to scare people off and then the police backed off,” he added.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said that “we had to do what we had to do.”
“Today, there was no self-determination referendum in Catalonia, and democracy prevailed because the constitution was upheld,” he said, adding that the vote was a “mockery of the very essence of democracy.
After the voting and related disturbances, pro-independence groups and trade unions in the region called for a general strike on October 3.
Meanwhile, Barcelona’s soccer team defeated Las Palmas in a match played without fans after the club president announced the game would be take place behind closed doors to show opposition to what he called police violence against voters.
The team, which openly backed the referendum, said it wanted to postpone the game, but the request was denied by the Spanish league.