Tens of thousands of Catalans have taken to the streets to protest the violent police response to the disputed independence referendum on Sunday. In Barcelona protesters chanted and banged pots and pans as they passed the headquarters of the Civil Guard, the national police force that has been criticised for its handling of the ballot that left nearly 900 people injured as they tried cast their vote. The protests are taking place against the backdrop of a general strike that has affected businesses, schools and transport in Catalonia, which is Spain’s wealthiest region, accounting for about 20 percent of the country’s GDP and a quarter of its exports. On Tuesday angry protesters gathered outside hotels housing civil guard officers, many of whom had been drafted in from other parts of Spain especially for the referendum. After a confrontation between locals and officers at one hotel in Calella the officers were asked to leave by the hotel owner. Similar stories of civil guard officers being asked to leave hotels after crowds gathered to protest their presence were reported in the towns of Lleida, Reus and Pineda de Mar.
The Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, has called for international mediation to resolve the situation, saying the European Commission “cannot look the other way any longer.” The EU has declined to intervene in what it sees as an internal matter for the Spanish state, except to condemn Sunday’s violence and call for dialogue between Madrid and Barcelona. Puigdemont’s government has claimed that 91 percent of those who cast their ballot on Sunday voted in favour of independence. Turnout however was low at around 42 percent, with many who oppose independence choosing to boycott the vote. In previous statements Puigdemont had said that in the event of a vote in favour of breaking away from Spain, independence would be declared within 48 hours, but after the referendum on Sunday he said the results will be discussed by the Catalan parliament “where the sovereignty of our people lies, so that it can act in accordance with the law of the referendum.”
The government in Madrid denies the validity of Sunday’s vote, which had been declared illegal by the constitutional court. « Today, we have not had a referendum for self-determination in Catalonia,” said Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.
« Today, Spaniards have seen that our state … restricts those who wish to subvert the rule of law, and acts with all legal resources, vis a vis provocations, and does so with efficacy and in a serene way,” Rajoy said.