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Sinn Féin praises 'enormous courage' of Catalonia people

Spanish riot police swings a club against would-be voters near a school assigned to be a polling station by the Catalan government in Barcelona, Spain, Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017. Spanish riot police have forcefully removed a few hundred would-be voters from several polling stations in Barcelona. picture by Manu Fernandez, AP Photo.
Seanin Graham

SINN Féin last night praised the "enormous courage" of the Catalan people in trying to hold an independence referendum and called on the international community to condemn the violence perpetrated by police.

Party president Gerry Adams said the force used by Spanish authorities to prevent voting was “undemocratic and counter-productive" and that the European Union needed to 'speak out' against the coercion.

Over 800 people were injured as police tried to stop the poll that was declared illegal by the country's constitutional court.

Baton rounds and rubber bullets were fired police during pro-referendum protests.

"The widespread scenes of violence being used by Spanish authorities must be condemned. The European Union cannot stand aside and allow EU citizens to be denied their right to vote," Mr Adams said.

"The violent response of the Spanish state to the referendum is undemocratic.

"Old people are being physically assaulted as they try to enter polling stations, while the Spanish police has fired plastic bullets into crowds of innocent people simply because they want to exercise their right to vote.

"I would urge the international community to speak out against Spanish efforts to violently prevent a democratic referendum.

"There is a particular onus on Spain's European neighbours, including the Irish government, and the European Union to take a stand against the use of violence against those seeking to use their vote and in support of the democratic rights of the Catalan people."

Catalonia's government is to hold a Cabinet meeting to discuss the next steps in its plan to declare independence from Spain following the disputed referendum.

Regional officials said the vote, which Spain insists is illegal and invalid, shows that a majority favour secession.

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

Meanwhile, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is to meet 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% backed independence after less than half of the electorate voted on the day.

Riot officers attacked peaceful protesters and unarmed civilians gathered to cast their ballots.

After the polls closed, Mr Puigdemont said Catalonia had "won the right to become an independent state".

"Today the Spanish state wrote another shameful page in its history with Catalonia," he added, saying he would appeal to the European Union to look into alleged human rights violations during the vote.

Catalan regional government spokesman Jordi Turull told reporters that 90% of the 2.26 million Catalans who voted chose the "yes" side in favour of independence.

He said nearly 8% of voters rejected independence, while the rest of the ballots were blank or void. He said 15,000 votes were still being counted, and that the number of ballots did not include those confiscated by Spanish police during violent raids that aimed to stop the vote.

The region has 5.3 million registered voters.

No-one knows precisely what will happen if Catalan officials actually follow through on its pledge to use the vote - chaotic as it was - as a basis for declaring the north-eastern region independent.

Such a provocative move would threaten Spain with the possible loss of one of its most prosperous regions, including the popular coastal city of Barcelona, the regional capital.

Clashes broke out less than an hour after polls opened, and hundreds of police armed with truncheons and rubber bullets were sent in from other regions to confiscate ballots and stop the voting.

Amateur video showed some officers dragging people out of polling stations by the hair, throwing some down stairs, kicking them and pushing them to the ground.

Police were acting on a judge's orders to stop the referendum, which the Spanish government had declared illegal and unconstitutional - and Mr Rajoy said going forward with the vote only served to sow divisions.

In a televised address after the majority of polls closed on Sunday, he thanked the Spanish police, saying they had acted with "firmness and serenity".

Spanish Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis said the violence, while "unfortunate" and "unpleasant" was "proportionate".

"If people insist in disregarding the law and doing something that has been consistently declared illegal and unconstitutional, law enforcement officers need to uphold the law," Mr Dastis told The Associated Press.

By the end of the day, Catalan health services said 844 civilians had been treated in hospitals for injuries, including two who were in a serious condition and another person who was being treated for an eye injury which appeared to have been caused by a rubber bullet. Thirty-three police officers were also injured.

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