Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Catalonia Independence Referendum Leads to Violence and Mass Protests

by Tracey Smidt

Sunday 1 October saw voters casting their ballots in the Catalonia Independence Referendum for the region to officially become independent from Spain. Catalonia is located on the eastern Iberian Peninsula, and includes the major city Barcelona. 

The referendum led to police violence, and the Spanish government has refused to recognise the legitimacy of the vote. The result of the referendum was in favour of independence from Spain.

On September 7, the Catalan Parliament passed a law authorising the Catalonia Independence Referendum. Later, the central government in Madrid filed a complaint to the Spanish Constitutional Court which then ruled the referendum illegal, with central government threatening to prosecute Catalan government officials.

In defiance of the Spanish government, it was decided that the referendum would be held on October 1, where polling stations would be open from 7am to 6pm.

To prevent the referendum from taking place, central government ordered the National Guard to raid possible holding sites for ballot papers and boxes. In response, locals guarded polling sites on the eve of the referendum to stop police.

On Sunday, tractors blocked roads to some facilities. As the day progressed, police presence increased at polling stations, specifically in Barcelona, stopping voters from entering polling stations. Social media showed videos and pictures of police using force to drag voters out of schools, where most polling stations were located, as well as removing those who were lying in the streets and blocking police vehicles.

Rubber bullets and batons were used to disperse crowds and stop people from entering polling stations. The crowd in turn would raise their palms, facing the police, to show that they were unarmed and peaceful, but still wished to vote.

Reports revealed more than 890 people were injured due to police attacks, and 33 police officers were injured due to clashes with voters. In a news conference, the Prime Minister of Spain, Mariano Rajoy, announced that "no referendum has been held in Catalonia" and praised police for doing their "duty." Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaria said the force used by police was "proportionate."

Results showed that 2.26 million ballots were cast, a turnout of 42.3%. Of these votes, 90.9% voted for and 7.87% voted against independence from Spain. 770 000 people were prevented from voting.

Students and members of trade unions rallied in protest against the police violence, with Barcelona on lock-down on Tuesday. Many thousands took to the streets, and demonstrators gathered outside of the Barcelona headquarters of Spain’s national police force. International pressure continues to mount for a peaceful resolution to Spain’s worst political crisis in decades.