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Asia Today ISSN 1861-4604 Tuesday, February 20, 2018

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Chaos reigns: Spain moves to prevent Catalonia referendum

Independence Referendum

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BARCELONA, Spain - Vowing to stop Catalonia's independence referendum, which was declared illegal by the country’s constitutional court, the Spanish government deployed a strong police presence, which led to several clashes on Sunday. 

Despite arrests, raids and seizures that became more frequent over the last few weeks, pro-independence citizens staged protests - eventually heading out on Sunday to cast their votes. 

However, voters witnessed a widespread police presence, after the Spanish government declared the referendum is unconstitutional and that it would stop the referendum. 

Over the last five years, the region's devolved government has demanded a referendum on independence from Spain.

Over the years, their resolve strengthened and Sunday was set as the day Catalans would vote for the fate of the region.

Based on a law passed by the local parliament, Catalan leaders said that they may declare independence from Spain within 48 hours of the vote.

However, on Sunday, Barcelona's mayor said that at least 460 people were injured as police used force to try to prevent voting in the independence referendum.

Reports noted that police officers not only prevented people from voting, but seized ballot papers and boxes at polling stations.

In Barcelona, police used batons and fired rubber bullets during pro-referendum protests.

Speaking to reporters, Barcelona's Mayor Ada Colau condemned police actions against what she said was the region's "defenceless" population.

The left-wing mayor also called on Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to resign over his “cowardly” and unjustified police intervention.

She added, “Today we’re not talking about independence or not, but about a breakup between Mariano Rajoy and his government with Catalonia.”

In a statement, however, the Spanish interior ministry said that 12 police officers had been hurt and three people arrested. 

It added that 92 polling stations had been closed through the course of the day.

The ministry confirmed that the national police and Guardia Civil (paramilitary force charged with police duties) were deployed in large numbers in Catalonia to prevent the vote from taking place.

In its statement, Spanish Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido blamed Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont for the day's senseless events.

Puigdemont fired back saying, "The unjustified use of violence... by the Spanish state will not stop the will of the Catalan people.”

Reports noted that Puigdemont, who was due to vote in Girona saw the riot police smashing their way into the polling station and forcibly removing those looking to place their ballots. 

Puigdemont then cast his vote at another polling station.

He said later, “The image of the Spanish state has reached levels of shame that will stay with them forever. Today the Spanish state has lost a lot more than it had already lost, and Catalan citizens have won a lot more than they had won until now.”

Meanwhile, defending the police action, Spain's Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said the police had "acted with professionalism and in a proportionate way.”

In addition, the Guardia Civil said it was "resisting harassment and provocation" while carrying out its duties "in defence of the law.”

A day before the referendum, a small army of pro-independence parents and their children occupied hundreds of polling stations in elementary and high schools across Catalonia, staging a mass act of civil disobedience and defending Catalonia's right to hold an independence referendum.

The action was organized on WhatsApp groups, which has encrypted messages, hoping to thwart efforts by the central government to shut down the independence referendum.

The protest action on Saturday set the stage for an almost surreal confrontation between pro-independence Catalans and their central government but by evening, police units started to sweep the schools and warned parents that the buildings must be emptied by 6 am on Sunday.

Over the last week, several parts of the country and Catalonia have witnessed almost daily protests, that has seen students, youngsters and several sets of citizens from different walks of life, and even a Tractorada staging marches and rallies.

In some areas over the last three days, farmers positioned tractors on roads and in front of polling station doors, and school gates were taken away to make it harder for the authorities to seal buildings off. 

On Sunday, firefighters acted as human shields between police and demonstrators.

As the violence escalated, officials announced that the FC Barcelona's match against Las Palmas scheduled for later in the day would be played behind closed doors, after Barcelona said the football league refused to suspend the game.

To deal with the vote and possible violence, thousands of extra police officers were sent to the region earlier in the week, many of them based on two ships in the port of Barcelona.

However, despite the Spanish security forces intensifying the clampdown, the Catalan authorities maintained that voting was proceeding in almost three-quarters of polling stations.

 

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