Police brutality hospitalised more than 700 people yesterday as residents of the Catalonia region tried to vote in the Catalan independence referendum.
The referendum, proposed by Catalonia’s regional president Carles Puigdemont, has caused conflict with the Spanish government since its announcement. While Puigdemont insists that Catalonia should have autonomy on all fronts, the Spanish government, led by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy argued that the vote was unconstitutional.
As voters queued outside polling stations on October 1, riot police attacked the crowds with rubber bullets and used axes to destroy doors to the buildings. 51-year-old Catalan Jesús López Rodríguez described the experience to The Guardian. “They told us that the Catalan high court had ordered them to take the ballot boxes and that we needed to disperse,” he said. “We chanted, ‘No! No! No!’, and then about 20 police officers charged us.” López Rodríguez said that police used force to arrest the voters. “They dragged them out violently. We stood our ground but they kept dragging people away, kicking them and throwing them to the ground.”
Injuries neared 800 across Barcelona, Girona, Tarragona, Lleida, Terres de l’Ebre and central Catalunya. Despite many Catalans managing to cast their ballots, the Spanish government has declared that the votes are illegal. In a televised address, Rajoy denied the vote’s occurrence. “Today there has not been a self-determination referendum in Catalonia,” he said. “The rule of law remains in force with all its strength.” He then tried to justify the actions of the police force, claiming that the referendum was a “real attack on the rule of law… to which the state reacted with firmness and serenity.”
Barcelona mayor Ada Colau has called for Rajoy to step down. “It seems obvious to me that Mariano Rajoy should resign,” she said, adding that he is “a coward, hiding behind the prosecutors and courts.”