Spain’s constitutional crisis reached a boiling point as Catalans in Barcelona and across the region headed to the polls in a highly-contested independence referendum and were met with a harsh police crackdown.
Several hundred people were injured in the confrontations with officers on Sunday, and dozens of polling centers were shut down.
Police acting on orders from the Spanish government to stop the voting across the country’s northeastern region clashed with Catalans who were attempting to stop them from confiscating ballots. Videos that emerged Sunday on social media appear to show police using brutal force on people attempting to cast their vote.
Catalonia’s health service said Sunday night that at least 844 people were injured today by the evening — nearly half of them in the Barcelona region, where police fired rubber bullets near at least one polling station, according to The Associated Press. Spanish authorities said 11 police officers were injured in the melees.
On Sunday, Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria praised police in the region for acting with “firmness and proportionality.”
Spain’s government has said that the referendum is illegal, and the country’s Constitutional Court in early September ordered the planned vote suspended.
Catalan separatists called on millions of registered voters to defy these orders and head to the polls on Sunday anyway.
Raul Romeva, Catalonia’s international affairs director, said that regional leaders will appeal to European authorities regarding alleged human rights violations witnessed today, the AP reports.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy gave a defiant speech on TV Sunday evening blaming Catalan leaders for the chaos.
“The leaders of Generalitat Catalunya Government [the Catalonia regional government] pretended to get rid of the rights of Spanish people with the violation of the law. They are the responsible ones,” Rajoy said.
“We saw behavior that would…