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Independence promised as Catalonia votes ‘yes’ in violent referendum

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National Police officers and civil guards were deployed in Barcelona on Sunday to prevent people from entering polling centers and voting in the Catalan independence referendum, which was banned by the Spanish Constitutional Court. (Alberto Estevez/EFE/Zuma Press/TNS)
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BARCELONA, Spain — Catalonia has “gained the right” to secede from Spain after Madrid responded Sunday to an unauthorized independence referendum with “shameful” police brutality, Catalan President Carles Puigdemont said.

“We have gained the right to have an independent state with the status of a republic,” Puigdemont said.

More than 2.2 million ballot papers were counted, out of 5.3 million eligible voters, the regional government later said, suggesting a turnout of less than 50 per cent.

About 90 per cent were in favor of independence, with about 8 per cent voting “no” and blank and void papers accounting for the rest.

Results will be forwarded “in the coming days” to the Catalan parliament “so that it may implement” a referendum law that obliges it to declare independence within 48 hours of a “yes” victory, Puigdemont said.

He also accused Spain of writing “a shameful page in its relations with Catalonia” and urged the European Union to hear out Catalan concerns.

About 840 people were hurt in clashes with police, according to Catalan health authorities, as officers raided dozens of public buildings to prevent them from being used as polling stations.

“We had to do what we had to do,” Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said in Madrid. “Today there was no self-determination referendum in Catalonia,” he said, and “democracy prevailed because the constitution was upheld.”

Calling the referendum a “mockery of the very essence of democracy,” Rajoy thanked judges, prosecutors and police, and claimed to have the full support of the EU and the international community.

Social media was filled with images of officers in tense stand-offs with crowds. Some people could be seen being dragged away by officers wearing helmets and carrying batons; others were left bloodied and carried away in stretchers.

Rajoy said he would address parliament Monday and called crisis talks between all parties represented in Madrid, including Catalan separatists. He said he would “never close any door” to dialogue, “but always within the bounds of the law and of democracy.”

“Crowd control instruments” were used in only one of 70 raids, Interior Minister Juan Ignazio Zoido said.

Zoido confirmed the Catalan police asked “in writing” for Spanish counterparts to intervene in certain situations. The Catalan police’s willingness to carry out Madrid’s anti-referendum orders had been in doubt.

Voting started at 9 a.m. local time and ended as scheduled at 8 p.m. Catalan authorities prepared more than 2,300 polling stations. By 6 p.m., Spanish police had managed to close only 319 of them.

Catalonia has 7.5 million inhabitants and, accounting for roughly 20 per cent of Spain’s economic output, is one of its wealthiest regions. It has a separate language, Catalan, a history of oppression from Madrid and grievances about subsidizing the rest of Spain.

The referendum was called Sept. 6 by Catalonia’s parliament and invalidated by Spain’s Constitutional Court.

It was Catalonia’s second independence vote in less than three years, with more than 80 per cent of 2.3 million voters backing a nonbinding secessionist option in November 2014.

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