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EU Commission Calls for Dialogue After Spanish Vote Violence

People opposed to Catalonia's referendum on secession wave Spanish flags in front of a building decorated with pro-independence banners in Barcelona. (Paul White / AP)

Watch Truthdig correspondent Donald Kaufman’s live clips from Barcelona here.

BARCELONA, Spain—The latest on Catalonia’s referendum Sunday on breaking away from Spain (all times local):

4:35 p.m.

European Union chief Donald Tusk has appealed to Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to “avoid further escalation and use of force” in the standoff over the Catalonian independence referendum.

Tusk spoke to the Spanish leader Monday, and said that even though he shared the constitutional reasoning for not recognizing Sunday’s referendum in Catalonia, he wanted the violence that marred the poll not to be repeated.

Tusk said in a Twitter message that he “appealed for finding ways to avoid further escalation and use of force.”

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3:50 p.m.

French President Emmanuel Macron is noting his attachment to Spain’s “constitutional unity” one day after Catalonia’s disputed independence referendum.

The French presidency said in a statement that Macron had a phone call Monday with Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in which he told Rajoy that he is France’s contact in Spain.

The French statement didn’t comment on the violent crackdown Sunday by Spanish police trying to stop the referendum. More than 890 civilians and 33 police members were injured.

Catalonia’s regional government says 90 percent of those who voted chose independence from Spain, and has called for international mediation to solve the political deadlock.

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3:25 p.m.

Spain’s interior minister has lamented the hundreds of injuries linked to the Spanish police’s crackdown on the Catalan independence referendum Sunday—but he says the thousands of police reinforcements sent to the region would be staying as long as needed.

Speaking Monday on Spain’s Antena 3 TV, Juan Ignacio Zoido reiterated that police acted under a judicial order to prevent the referendum from taking place. But he admitted that there were some scenes he would have preferred not to have happened.

He said that police had simply tried to remove election material, but in some cases people had resisted them Sunday.

Spain sent at least 5,000 extra National Police and National Guard officers to join the estimated 10,000 members of both forces already stationed there.

The officers fired rubber bullets and clubbed and kicked many people who took to the streets to defend the referendum that Spain insists was illegal.

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2:15 p.m.

Serbia’s president says the European Union has shown “double standards and hypocrisy” in rejecting the Catalan referendum but not the independence of ex-Serbian province of Kosovo.

Aleksandar Vucic said Monday his government supports the territorial integrity of Spain, one of five EU member nations that have not recognized Kosovo.

Kosovo declared independence in 2008, following a brutal 1998-99 war. It was backed by the United States and its allies, but not Russia and China.

Meanwhile, Poland’s government has expressed hope for a “quick stabilization of the situation in Catalonia” through dialogue and compromise, “without resorting to force or street demonstrations.”

But Poland’s foreign ministry also described the situation in Catalonia to be Spain’s “internal matter,” saying “we fully respect the principles of sovereignty, territorial integrity and the unity of the Kingdom of Spain.”

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2 p.m.

The U.N. human rights chief is calling on Spain’s government to ensure “thorough, independent and impartial investigations” into acts of violence linked to the Catalan independence referendum.

Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein says he’s “very disturbed” by Sunday’s violence in Catalonia. He said police responses must “at all times be proportionate and necessary.”

The rights chief said in a statement Monday the situation should be resolved through political dialogue.

Catalan health officials say 893 people were treated in the hospital during Sunday’s clashes with riot police who turned up to stop people from voting.

Zeid, a Jordanian prince who goes by his first name, also urged Madrid to accept “without delay” the requests of two U.N.-mandated investigators on freedom of assembly and minorities to be granted access to visit Catalonia.

Rights office spokesman Rupert Colville said the two U.N. “special rapporteurs” had previously sought the access before the weekend’s violence.

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1:40 p.m.

Catalonia’s leader is calling for international mediation to solve the political deadlock over the Catalan independence referendum.

Carles Puigdemont also called on Spain’s national police reinforcements to leave the northeastern region, a day after the vote on whether Catalonia should secede from Spain led to violence as police moved to stop voting.

He said the regional government will investigate responsibilities in rights violations.

Puigdemont called for the European Union to consider Catalonia’s desire to break away from Spain as a regional problem, and urged Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s government to accept mediation.

The Catalan president says the regional parliament will be carrying out in the next days the mandate to declare independence in the light of the “yes” victory in the referendum.

Spain’s government says the referendum was illegal and that results lack any validity.

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1:20 p.m.

Germany’s foreign minister has called for urgent talks between the opposing sides in the dispute over Catalonia’s independence drive.

In a statement Monday, Sigmar Gabriel said that “the pictures which reached us from Spain yesterday show how important it is to stop the spiraling escalation now.”

Gabriel urged the parties to remain calm, act within the limits of the Spanish constitution and find a “politically sustainable solution.”

He added that the rule of law is a fundamental pillar of the European Union and “this principles unites us, with Spain in our midst.”

Gabriel said he was convinced that “Spain will be able to overcome its internal divisions if both sides can agree on a common path.”

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1 p.m.

The German government says it hopes there will be “a swift calming of the situation” in Catalonia following violence over Sunday’s independence referendum.

In a statement to The Associated Press, the government said Monday that “Germany is extremely close to the Kingdom of Spain and its people,” adding: “We are therefore closely watching the current dispute surrounding the status of Catalonia, and naturally also the developments yesterday.”

The statement said Germany hoped the situation will resolve itself “within the framework of the Spanish constitution.”

Chancellor Angela Merkel said in August that Germany was greatly interested in the stability of Spain but that the independence question was an internal matter for the country.

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12:30 p.m.

The European Union’s executive called on all sides in Spain “to now move very swiftly from confrontation to dialogue” in the wake of the violence that marred the Catalonian independence referendum Sunday.

EU spokesman Margaritis Schinas also said the Commission trusts “the leadership of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to manage this difficult process.”

“These are times for unity and stability,” Schinas said. “We call on all relevant players to now move very swiftly from confrontation to dialogue. Violence can never be an instrument in politics.”

He said EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Rajoy would talk later Monday.

Catalan officials say the poll, which Spain insists was illegal and invalid, shows that a majority who voted favor secession.

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12:20 p.m.

Catalonia’s health services have raised the number of people injured during Sunday’s clashes over the independence referendum to 893.

The region’s health department said Monday four people remained in Catalan hospitals, two of them in serious condition although their lives were not threatened.

The department said most of the injured suffered bruises and cuts.

Police used batons, fired rubber bullets, and clubbed and kicked many people who took to the streets to defend the referendum that Spain said was illegal and which a court had ordered officers to prevent.

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11:30 a.m.

People in Spain’s northeastern region of Catalonia have been left upset by the Spanish police’s crackdown on the Catalan independence referendum. Still, many say it was right to stage the vote.

“It was a day of recognition of rights. The human right to vote,” said 45-year-old office worker Olga Gil. “What the police and the Spanish state did was totally shameful. I hope what we saw was a clear message.”

Spanish riot police smashed their way into polling stations across Catalonia on Sunday to try and stop the referendum on independence that the Spanish government said was illegal. Some 850 people have been treated for injuries. Catalonia said preliminary poll results showed 90 percent favored independence after under half the electorate voted.

“I am very annoyed for the both sides involved in what happened yesterday,” said Eric Tigra, 56. “I think both sides involved committed grave mistakes. But we must also highlight that if the people of Catalonia go out in the streets and you don’t listen to them then something is not working right.”

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10:20 a.m.

Spain’s stock market and the euro are down amid concern over the potential impact of the Catalan independence vote.

The Ibex 35 index in Madrid is down 0.8 percent at 10,299 points on a day when other global markets, even elsewhere in Europe, are higher. Among the biggest losers is Banco Sabadell SA, based in the Catalan town of Sabadell, which is down 3 percent.

The euro also is down 0.6 percent at $1.1742.

Overall, investors seem to think the independence vote will be solved somehow. Analysts at UniCredit bank wrote in a report to investors on Monday that they expect the sides to negotiate “to avoid a degeneration of the crisis – taking into account that the Catalan population is highly divided about the issue.”

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10:15 a.m.

The co-leader of Germany’s Green party has criticized the use of force by police during Catalonia’s independence referendum.

Cem Ozdemir, who is being touted as Germany’s possible next foreign minister, told the dpa news agency that “the massive police operation against people who wanted to vote is a mistake.”

He was quoted Monday as saying that the violence “will only increase the political problem.”

Ozdemir also called for a “serious offer of dialogue from (Spanish) Prime Minister (Mariano) Rajoy” and suggested the European Commission should mediate any talks.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has yet to publicly comment on Sunday’s violence and the outcome of the referendum, which Catalonia’s regional government says resulted in 90 percent of voters backing a divorce from Spain. Spain has called the referendum illegal and invalid.

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9:20 a.m.

Catalonia’s government will hold a closed-door Cabinet meeting to discuss the next steps in its plan to declare independence from Spain following a disputed referendum marred by violence. Regional officials say the vote, which Spain insists is illegal and invalid, shows that a majority favor secession.

Catalan president Carles Puigdemont will chair Monday’s meeting, which is expected to consider asking the regional parliament to vote on an independence declaration later in the week.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, meanwhile, meets with ruling party leaders before seeking a parliamentary session to discuss how to confront the country’s most serious crisis in decades.

Catalonia said preliminary poll results showed 90 percent favored independence after under half the electorate voted in a day that saw around 850 people injured in clashes with police.

6:15 p.m.

An amateur video filmed by a voter in Barcelona shows Spanish police kicking, beating and pulling people by the hair in clashes that took place as [authorities] tried to stop a referendum on independence in the northeastern region of Catalonia.

The video, acquired by The Associated Press, show National Police officers pulling and pushing people down a stairway at the Pau Claris School in the Sant Marti neighborhood Sunday. At one point, it shows an officer jumping down the steps and apparently stomping on a person on the floor.

One person can be seen being pulled by the hair and others kicked on the ground. People can be heard screaming wildly and shouting “Out!” at the officers.

The person that filmed the video said voters were simply sitting and trying to slow the police operation down. She said she saw no provocations. She asked for her name not to be published.

—Iain Sullivan

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5:15 p.m.

Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau says more than 460 people have been injured in Catalonia in clashes with Spanish police who trying to prevent a referendum on independence from taking place in the northeastern region.

Colau said Sunday that as mayor of the city, she demands “an immediate end to police charges against the defenseless population.”

Police have baton-charged and fired rubber bullets to disperse crowds in Barcelona and other towns and cities. Videos have showed them beating people repeatedly as they try to confiscate ballots and ballot boxes.

In addition to the protesters and voters injured, Spain’s Interior Ministry says 11 police officers have been injured fulfilling judicial orders to prevent the referendum on independence.

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5 p.m.

Barcelona’s soccer game against Las Palmas has gone ahead without fans in attendance at the Camp Nou stadium amid the disputed referendum on Catalonia’s independence.

 

Barcelona made the announcement that the match would be played behind closed doors with less than a half hour to kickoff, with thousands of soccer fans already waiting outside the stadium.

Barcelona wanted the game to be postponed, but it said that the Spanish league refused to accept its request.

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4:50 p.m.

Scotland’s leader has appealed to Spain to “change course,” amid violence shown in television images in Catalonia following the disputed independence referendum.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said Sunday on her Twitter feed that she was increasingly concerned by the images, which have shown police smashing into polling stations and roughing up voters. Police also fired rubber bullets. Hundreds of people were injured, including 11 police officers.

Sturgeon says that “regardless of views on independence, we should all condemn the scenes being witnessed.”

Sturgeon called on Spain “to change course before someone is seriously hurt. Let people vote peacefully.”

The vote is of particular interest in Scotland, which held its own referendum on independence in 2014. The vote, which ended with a vote to remain in the United Kingdom, featured heated debate but was peaceful.

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4:30 p.m.

Spain’s interior Ministry says police have closed 79 of about 2,300 polling stations that the Catalan government has authorized to stage its referendum on independence in northeastern Catalonia.

The ministry said Sunday that police, who are under orders to prevent the referendum from taking place, arrested three people, one a minor, for disobedience and assaulting officers.

It said 34 of the voting centers closed were in the Catalan capital of Barcelona. A regional court last week ordered police to close all the polling stations.

Earlier Sunday, Catalan government spokesman Jordi Turull said that voting was underway in 96 percent of the voting centers.

The Spanish government says no referendum has taken place.

The ministry said 11 police officers were slightly injured in disturbances. Catalan officials say 337 people have been injured, some seriously, in clashes with police.

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4:15 p.m.

Belgium’s prime minister has called for political dialogue in Spain amid a police crackdown on voting during the Catalonia independence referendum.

Charles Michel also condemned all forms of aggression, tweeting that “violence can never be the answer!”

Catalonia’s regional president, Carles Puigdemont, responded to the tweet, saying “thank you very much … for you commitment against violence and for your call for political dialogue.”

Spanish police have fired rubber bullets at protesters outside a Barcelona polling station and smashed their way into at least two voting centers. Catalan officials say 337 people have been injured, including some seriously. Police say 11 officers have also been injured.

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3:10 p.m.

Spain’s Interior Ministry says 11 police officers have been injured fulfilling judicial orders to prevent the referendum on independence in northeastern Catalonia from taking place.

The ministry tweeted that the injured Sunday included nine National Police officers and two Civil Guard agents.

Police battled with pro-referendum supporters in the streets of Barcelona on Sunday, baton charging them and firing rubber bullets. Hundreds of people were reported injured.

The ministry posted a video on its Twitter account showing Civil Guard officers jumping into two police vehicles to flee a stone-throwing mob in the town of Sant Carles de la Rapita.

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2:55 p.m.

Catalonia’s government spokesman says 337 people have been injured, some seriously, during the police crackdown Sunday on a banned referendum on breaking away from Spain.

Jordi Turull said he couldn’t disclose more details about the wounded out of respect to their relatives.

Police fired rubber bullets near at least one Barcelona polling station, and have clashed with protesters throughout Catalonia.

The regional government’s spokesman, Jordi Turull, blamed the violence directly on Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido.

Turull said that actions by Spanish National Police and Civil Guard forces on Sunday were politically motivated and showed “a clear motivation to harm citizens.”

Catalan international affairs director, Raul Romeva, said that regional authorities would appeal to European authorities for Rajoy’s governments’ violations of human rights.

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2:30 p.m.

Spanish deputy prime minister says Spanish police have intervened with “firmness and proportionality” against the Catalan vote on secession.

Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said Sunday Spanish authorities acted in a professional and proportional way, and that they weren’t going after voters, but referendum material.

She accused the Catalan government that is trying to hold the referendum of behaving with absolute irresponsibility.

She said, “There hasn’t been a referendum or the semblance of one.”

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2:10 p.m.

Elisa Arouca was waiting to vote outside the Estel school in central Barcelona when National Police agents yanked her and other prospective voters out of the way, used a mace to smash the door open, and confiscated the ballot boxes.

The violence had an impact on her. She had been planning to vote in favor to keeping Catalonia part of Spain, but decided instead to join the push for independence. She moved to another polling station to try and cast her vote.

Arouca said that “I was always against independence but what the Spanish state is doing is making me change my mind. The National Police and Civil Guard are treating us like criminals. I was most likely going to vote “No” until the National Police sent me flying. Now I will try to vote Yes.”

She only made up her mind to vote Wednesday after the Spanish officials made a series of arrests designed to shut down the disputed voting process.
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2 p.m.

Barcelona’s mayor has called for Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to step down in the wake of the violent police response during a banned independence referendum in Catalonia.

Ada Colau says that “if this is a democracy, the police action should be stopped immediately so we can later have a dialogue, which is what is needed.”

The mayor was scheduled to vote at a secondary school, but wasn’t able to do it because police blocked access to the polling station.

Colau supports the vote as Catalan’s expression of their political will but says that it can’t be considered a binding referendum because it hasn’t been agreed by the state, as Spain’s Constitution requires.

She called Sunday’s scuffles and clashes between voters and police “a rupture” of Rajoy’s government, saying “Rajoy has to clearly step down because he has failed in his political responsibilities.”

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1:40 p.m.

A member of the Israeli Parliament observing Catalonia’s independence referendum says she was shocked by the use of rubber bullets by Spanish police against crowds of unarmed protesters.

Ksenia Svetlova said Sunday the bullets used “can squash somebody’s head.” She said she hadn’t expected to see such tactics used in Europe.

She said she saw people bleeding and injured on the scene.

Svetlova says that “we did expect a normal democratic process. We knew that a lot of police were here but still, you know, there should be a respect for the will of the people to vote regardless of what you think of the referendum.”

Svetlova says she was part of a delegation of about 30 people from other countries invited by Catalan regional officials to see the voting process.

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1:30 p.m.

Several hundred people have staged protests in central Madrid in favor of Spanish unity and against the pro-independence referendum authorities in northeastern Catalonia are trying to hold.

Some 300 people gathered Sunday in the city’s Plaza Mayor square, waving Spanish red and yellow flags and chanting slogans in favor of Spanish unity.

Half the crowd then moved to Madrid’s emblematic Sol square and staged a second rally in front of the regional government’s headquarters.

The protesters applauded police standing guard outside the building in a show of support for Spain’s security forces.

Spain has sent thousands of police reinforcements to northeastern Catalonia to try to prevent the referendum from taking place.

Protests for and against the Catalan secession referendum were to be held again in Madrid later Sunday.

Major anti-independence protests took place in cities across Spain, including Catalonia, on Saturday.

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1:20 p.m.

Catalonia’s ombudsman has said he will complain about the Spanish government’s tactics to European authorities including the European Council.

Rafael Ribo said Sunday the government forces had used disproportionate tactics in “violent actions against citizens” while trying to shut down the disputed independence referendum.

Ribo, an appointee by the regional parliament who leads the office overseeing citizens’ rights, said in an emotional appearance before reporters that the Spanish government has shown “little respect for human rights.”

He called on the government to stop all violent actions against citizens.

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12:45 p.m.

The Spanish government’s top official in Catalonia says that security forces are acting “professionally” to enforce a judicial decision to halt a banned referendum on the region’s secession from Spain.

Enric Millo, the central governments delegate in the northeastern region, has thanked the National Police and Civil Guard forces for their efforts to “oversee safety of all Catalans and for guaranteeing their rights.”

Millo said that “today’s events in Catalonia can never be portrayed as a referendum or anything similar.”

Spanish police have fired rubber bullets at protesters and smashed into polling stations to try to halt the voting.

A spokesman for Catalonia’s regional government has labelled the crackdown as “repression” and called for Millo to step down for the handling of the police response.

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12:30 p.m.

Catalonia’s regional leader has condemned the Spanish police crackdown on people trying to vote in the disputed independence referendum.

Catalan President Carles Puigdemont said that “police brutality will shame forever the Spanish state” after police smashed their way into voting centers and fired rubber bullets to disperse crowds.

Police have been ordered to prevent the vote from taking place.

Puigdemont was welcomed by cheering crowds at the gymnasium where police broke in to halt voting. The Catalan leader was meant to vote there in Sant Julia e Ramis but had to choose a different polling center instead.

He said the Spanish government had damaged itself by its actions.

Puigdemont said that “today, the Spanish state has lost much more than what it had already lost, while Catalonia has won.”

___

11:30 a.m.

Catalonia’s government spokesman says that the disputed independence referendum is underway in 73 percent of about 6,000 polling stations despite a police crackdown to try to halt the vote and technological obstacles.

Jordi Turull called for Catalans to remain calm and patient but to defend “in a civic and peaceful manner” their right to vote after riot police blocked voting in some polling centers and confiscated ballot boxes amid clashes with protesting voters. Police have also fired rubber projectiles at protesters in Barcelona.

Turull said that “the world has seen the violence of the Spanish state,” calling actions by the police as “repression that is a reminder of the Franco era” in reference to Spain’s dictatorship from 1939-1975.

Turull said the Spanish government’s representative in Catalonia, Enric Millo, should resign over the handling of the crackdown.

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11:10 a.m.

Spanish riot police have fired rubber projectiles at protesters outside a Barcelona polling station during Catalonia’s disputed independence referendum. Several people have been wounded.

The officers fired the projectiles while trying to clear protesters who were trying to impede National Police cars from leaving after police confiscated ballot boxes from the voting center.

An AP photographer witnessed how several people had been injured during the scuffles outside Barcelona’s Rius i Taule school, where some voters had cast ballots before police arrived.

Manuel Conedeminas, a 48-year-old IT manager who tried to block police from driving away with the ballot boxes, said agents had kicked them before using their batons and firing the projectiles, which were ball-shaped.

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10:45 a.m.

Several members of the Catalan regional government cast their ballots in a banned referendum on independence from Spain that became messy as riot police moved Sunday to halt voting in several polling centers.

Catalan regional president Carles Puigdemont voted in Cornella de Terri, near the northern city of Girona, after police took over control of the original polling center where he was due to appear, his spokesman Joan Maria Pique told The Associated Press.

Puigdemont has spearheaded the separatist politicians’ push to go ahead with the vote, despite a Constitutional Court suspension and fierce opposition by central authorities.

Regional vice president Oriol Junqueras also found his designated polling station taken over by police and moved to a different location where he eventually voted, regional broadcaster TV3 said.

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10:25 a.m.

Electoral volunteers at polling centers in Catalonia’s disputed referendum say they are unable to access census data because the website that hosted it is down, while internet service has been cut in some of the stations.

Technicians are working to set up new domains for the website where electoral managers need to register polling data, said Jordi Sole, a 48-year-old historian who displayed an accreditation with the regional government’s logo and said that was at the Collaso high school in Barcelona to assist with the voting.

Guillem Castillo, an 18-year-old engineering student designated as an electoral official there, said technical problems halted the voting shortly after it opened.

Spanish media reported similar problems with internet in polling centers across Catalonia.

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10:10 a.m.

Spanish riot police have forcefully removed a few hundred would-be voters from a polling station at a school in Barcelona.

Daniel Riano was inside when the police pushed aside a large group gathered outside busted in the Estela school’s front door.

The 54-year-old Riano said that “we were waiting inside to vote when the National Police used force to enter, they used a mace to break in the glass door and they took everything.”

He said that “one policeman put me in a headlock to drag me out, while I was holding my wife’s hand. It was incredible. They didn’t give any warning.”

Ferran Miralles said a crowd scuffled with police outside as they formed a tight perimeter around the door. Miralles said “they were very aggressive. They pushed me out of the way.”

Elsewhere in Barcelona, police have detained several people outside the Treball voting center amid scuffles on the street. Officers dragged some of the protesters away and detained them.

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9:30 a.m.

Spanish riot police have smashed their way into a polling station in Catalonia where the regional leader was expected to show up to vote in the disputed independence referendum.

Civil Guard riot police with shields have used a hammer to smash the glass of the front door of the voting center and lock cutters to force their way in. Scuffles erupted outside between police and people waiting to vote at the polling center in Sant Julia de Ramis, near the Catalan city of Girona.

There were no immediate reports of injuries. Television footage showed police using batons to disperse the crowds gathered outside the local sports center.

Catalan president Carles Puigdemont was scheduled to vote in the Sant Julia de Ramis sports center at 9.30 a.m. (0730 GMT; 3:30 a.m. EDT).

Puigdemont has spearheaded the separatist politicians’ push to go ahead with the vote, despite a Constitutional Court suspension and fierce opposition by central authorities.

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9 a.m.

Polling has begun in a banned referendum on Catalonia’s independence, with the first voters casting ballots amid cheers in some of the designated polling stations.

Parents, children and activist volunteers had occupied some of the 2,315 schools and other facilities to avoid closure from police acting on court orders.

Spain’s Constitutional Court ordered the vote to be suspended and central authorities say it’s illegal. Regional separatist leaders have pledged to hold it anyway, promising to declare independence if the “yes” side wins, and have called on 5.3 million eligible voters to cast ballots.

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8:30 a.m.

Catalan officials say that voters will be allowed to cast ballots at any polling station, rather than a designated one as previously announced, as many locations have been sealed off by police.

Regional government spokesman Jordi Turull says the last-minute system will allow the 5.3 million eligible voters to cast a ballot and avoid repeated votes.

Turull says that Catalans will be able to vote with ballots printed at home if needed, announcing that authorities had printed new ones after 5 million paper ballots were confiscated by police. He also said that a group of “academics and professionals” would serve as election observers.

The electoral board appointed by the regional parliament was disbanded last week to avoid hefty fines by Spain’s Constitutional Court.

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8:10 a.m.

Ballot boxes began arriving at some polling stations for a disputed referendum on Catalonia’s split from Spain that is being met with fierce opposition from Spanish authorities.

Police acting on court orders have been trying to confiscate ballot boxes for weeks as the crackdown to halt the vote intensified.

On Friday, officials unveiled a prototype of the plastic ballot boxes with a logo of the regional government.

Spain’s Constitutional Court ordered the vote to be suspended and central authorities say it’s illegal. Hopeful voters have been occupying out some of the designated voting stations to avoid police taking control and closing them off.

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6.25 a.m.

Some of the Catalans who are defying court orders to vote in a disputed referendum on their region’s secession from Spain say they want to send a strong message of displeasure with central authorities.

Activist Augsti Gil says there were no ballots or ballot boxes in Barcelona’s Joan Fuster high school where more than a hundred people have joined another hundred who spent the night occupying the designated polling station.

Gil says they expect materials to arrive Sunday morning ahead of the 9 a.m. opening of polls.

Joaquim Bosch, a 73 year-old retiree at Princep de Viana high school, where a crowd of 20 people was growing says he is uneasy about a possible police response to the crowds.

Bosch says: “I have come to vote to defend the rights of my country, which is Catalonia.”

8:40 p.m.

Protesters rallying against a referendum on Catalonia declaring independence from Spain have scaled windows of Barcelona’s town hall and attempted to tear down a banner calling for “more democracy.”

The sign, written in Catalan, had been placed there by the municipal government amid Spain’s intensifying crackdown to prevent the vote.

Regional separatist officials in Catalonia want to go ahead with Sunday’s referendum disregarding a Constitutional Court suspension. Spanish central authorities consider the vote illegal.

The demonstrators on Saturday evening who favor staying united with Spain tore the banner in front of cheering crowds. Other protesters also burnt an “estelada,” the unofficial Catalan flag that has become a symbol for independence supporters.

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8 p.m.

Ruben Satinya wasn’t sure he would vote in favor of independence for Catalonia in Sunday’s disputed referendum, but the Spanish government’s effort to prevent the poll from taking place has convinced him to vote in favor of a break with Spain.

He is spending the night at his child’s Congres-Indians school in Barcelona, hoping to be joined by many other activists before police are expected arrive at 6 a.m. Sunday to clear the school to keep it from being used as a voting station.

Satinya doesn’t expect police to forcibly take them out of the school if the crowd is large enough to make removals difficult.

He says “I am Catalan, but my fight is for social and civil rights, and that is what this about.”

He adds “I believe in the basic right of self-determination.”

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6 p.m.

A grassroots group that has organized parents to keep schools in Catalonia open so they can be used as polling places for Sunday’s independence vote says the referendum could be in jeopardy unless more balloting stations can open.

Open Schools spokesman Ramon Font said that as of 5 p.m. Saturday the group did not know how many schools were being occupied by activists, but expects it to be by Sunday morning many more than the number Catalan police reported.

Catalan police said earlier Saturday that 163 schools were being occupied.

Font told The Associated Press he hopes the number will increase to all 2,315 schools designated as polling stations, but says much depends on whether police use force to vacate and shut schools to prevent balloting.

He warns: “If the number of schools kept open does not rise, then the ability to exercise our right to self-determination will be in serious jeopardy. It will be very difficult to vote.”

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5:55 p.m.

Thousands of Catalans are marching in downtown Barcelona in defense of Spanish unity and against a disputed referendum on the region’s independence that separatist politicians want to hold Sunday.

Protesters wrapped in red and yellow regional and national colors displayed a giant Spanish flag over their heads, as a light rain started falling late Saturday afternoon.

They chanted “Don’t let them fool you, Catalonia is Spain” and called for regional president Carles Puigdemont to step down.

Puigdemont openly favors Catalonia’s breaking away from Spain.

The crowd headed toward the gothic palace that houses the headquarters of the Catalan government.

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5:50 p.m.

The main civic group behind Catalonia’s push for independence says a turnout of 1 million voters — less than a fifth of the electorate — would make the region’s secession referendum an “overwhelming success” given the Spanish government’s efforts to stop the vote.

Catalan National Assembly President Jordi Sanchez said Saturday that the government crackdown, which has included deploying extra police to close polling places, may inhibit turnout among the region’s 5.3 million eligible voters.

Catalan authorities had said they hoped Sunday’s referendum would generate higher turnout than the 2.3 million people who voted in a mock plebiscite in 2014. In that vote, more than 80 percent favored independence.

The Catalan government has pledged to declare independence from Spain within 48 hours of Sunday if the ‘yes’ vote wins no matter what the turnout is.

___

4:45 p.m.

It’s not clear whether the Catalan government can distribute enough ballot boxes and ballots to its polling stations to carry out a credible vote on whether the northeastern region should declare independence from Spain.
Police in Catalonia have already confiscated 10 million paper ballots. On Saturday, they were sealing off many schools as possible to prevent them from being used as polling stations. Police have given activists and parents an ultimatum to leave the schools by 6 a.m. Sunday — three hours before the vote is to begin.

Enric Millo, the highest-ranking Spanish official in the region, says central authorities would tolerate informal balloting in the streets of Catalonia since that can’t be considered a valid electoral vote.

He says “they can always put a makeshift table in the street, with some buckets, and put papers in.”

But Millo adds “what Catalan authorities have promised, an effective referendum with legal basis and binding, is something that won’t happen.”

___
2:25 p.m.

Thousands of people have rallied in a central Madrid plaza to protest the Catalan regional government’s push to hold a referendum on separating the region from Spain.

Spanish unity supporters packing Cibeles Plaza on Saturday morning shouted “Viva Espana,” and “Puigdemont To Jail!”

Catalan regional president Carles Puigdemont, who openly favors breaking away from Spain, is among those promoting the independence referendum scheduled for Sunday.

The anti-secession demonstration was the biggest in Madrid since the referendum was called earlier this year. Similar demonstrations were held in other Spanish towns and cities.

While Spanish flags were everywhere at the Madrid demonstration, some of the protesters donned the flag used during Spain’s long right-wing dictatorship of Gen. Francisco Franco. It features an eagle in the middle.

___
1:45 p.m.

A top Spanish security official in Catalonia says police have sealed off more than half of the 2,315 polling stations designated for a disputed referendum on the region’s independence from Spain.

Enric Millo, the highest-ranking Spanish official in the northeastern region, said parents and students were found to be occupying 163 schools and holding activities when police were sealing off facilities on Saturday.

The regional police force has been ordered not to use force, but to vacate the schools by 6 a.m. on Sunday, ahead of the scheduled opening of polls at 9 a.m.

Millo says anyone remaining in schools after 6 a.m. will need to be removed in line with a judge’s orders, but predicts there won’t be significant problems.

He said: “I trust in the common sense of Catalans and that people will operate with prudence.”

Millo says the government is ready to ensure safety as significant numbers of people are expected to take their political views to the streets on Sunday.

___
1:10 p.m.

The Spanish government’s appointee in Catalonia says the technology infrastructure for voting and counting ballots from the region’s disputed secession vote has been dismantled, making the referendum “absolutely impossible.”

Enric Millo, the highest-ranking Spanish central government official in the region, said Civil Guard agents acting on a judge’s order searched on Saturday the headquarters of CTTI, the Catalan regional center in charge of technology and communications.

Millo says the agents disabled software designed to connect more than 2,300 polling stations and to share results, as well as applications for voting online.

He ruled out any possibility of “an effective referendum, with legal guarantees and binding in the way that the Catalan regional government has promised.”

Catalan officials have vowed to go ahead with Sunday’s vote even though Spain’s Constitutional Court has put the referendum on hold.

___
11:35 p.m.

Spain’s foreign minister says the Catalan regional government’s plan to hold an independence referendum is a mockery of democracy.

In an interview with the Associated Press on Saturday, Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis said: “What they are pushing is not democracy. It is a mockery of democracy, a travesty of democracy.”

Dastis accused the Catalan government of trying to promote an exclusionary system that runs counter to the goals and ideals the European Union is trying to advance.

He says voter referendums can’t be equated with democracy and asserts they actually are the “instrument of choice of dictators.”

The Spanish government maintains the referendum is unconstitutional and the country’s Constitutional Court suspended the vote so it could consider the matter. Catalan officials say they plan to hold the referendum anyway.

___
11:00 a.m.

Catalan police are telling parents that they must vacate schools so officers can carry out orders to impede a referendum on Catalonia’s secession from Spain.

Quim Roy, a father of two daughters in Barcelona, says police officers told the few dozen parents and children at the Congres-Indians primary school they can’t display campaign materials in favor of the disputed referendum and must leave the premises by 6.00 a.m. Sunday.

Parents supporting the referendum have organized across the northeastern region to occupy schools throughout the weekend so they can be used as polling stations come Sunday morning.

The vote has been suspended by Spain’s Constitutional Court and police have received orders to stop ballots from being cast on Sunday. The regional government has pressed ahead and called on residents to vote.

___
10:30 a.m.

Parents, children and activists in Catalonia are starting a day of activities after spending the night in schools designated as polling stations for Sunday’s vote on the region’s independence from Spain.

Yoga sessions, film screenings and picnics have been organized at some of the 2,315 voting facilities that referendum supporters are trying to keep police from shutting down.

The Spanish government considers the referendum illegal and the country’s Constitutional Court has suspended it, but regional separatists have vowed to go ahead with balloting.

The Catalan police force is under orders to empty the buildings by early Sunday. Officers have been directed to refrain from using violence to remove parents and students.

How the 17,000 regional officers respond to the vacate order is seen as key to the success or failure of the planned vote.

___
9:15 a.m.

Across Europe, people are watching Catalonia’s independence referendum closely and nervously — but quietly.

A strong turnout that results in a majority vote for the “yes” side on Sunday could embolden other breakaway-minded regions. A secession trend on the continent would put new strains on the European Union.

Scotland, Belgium’s Flanders region and the Faroe Islands under Denmark’s control are some of the places with independence movements.

Despite tensions behind the scenes, most European leaders are shying away from taking a public stand on Catalonia.
They’re reluctant to back either the Catalan separatists who are bucking Spanish law to hold the referendum or Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s heavy-handed efforts to block it.

The EU’s silence has been especially conspicuous since Catalan officials appealed to the bloc directly to mediate the dispute.

The Associated Press

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