Spanish police in riot gear smashed in the doors of polling stations and dragged protesters away by the hair, beating some with batons and firing rubber bullets at others on Sunday as they tried to shut down an illegal referendum on independence in Catalonia.
Despite the police brutality against largely peaceful demonstrations, voting began in many locations across northeast Spain at 9 a.m. The Catalan government said 73 percent of polling stations were open. Spain’s representative in the region, Enric Millo, said the vote had been “dismantled.”
Catalan President Carles Puigdemont said the crackdown had been an “unjustified, excessive and irresponsible use of violence.”
“It didn’t end Catalans’ desire to vote and decide freely about their future, but it has helped to answer all the questions we had to address today,” he said at a voting site near Girona that had been raided by the Civil Guard. “Today, the Spanish state lost.”
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy deployed thousands of police from outside Catalonia ahead of the vote to maintain public order, with the crisis already roiling his minority government.