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Spanish riot police efforts to halt Catalan vote leave 761 injured

By Aritz Parra

Spanish riot police smashed their way into Catalan polling stations yesterday to try to halt a disputed referendum on independence, firing rubber bullets and attacking voters who were trying to stop them from confiscating ballots.

The actions injured at least 761 civilians and 11 police, authorities said.

In a televised address after the polls in the northeastern region closed, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy insisted there had been no independence referendum in Catalonia.

He said the great majority of Catalans did not "follow the script of the secessionists".

Mr Rajoy said the independence referendum, which had been barred by the country's constitutional court, only served to sow divisions.

In comments sure to anger Catalonians, he praised the Spanish police, saying they acted with "firmness and serenity" in response to the referendum.

Police were acting on orders from a judge to stop the voting process, which Spain says is illegal under the country's constitution.

It is still unclear how many of the region's 5.3 million eligible voters turned out, what happens next if the region does declare independence based on the vote, and whether Spain might be plunged deeper into a constitutional crisis.

Police used batons, fired rubber bullets, and roughed up voters. Catalan authorities say police even used tear gas once.

At the Pau Claris School in Barcelona, footage by one voter showed police aggressively removing people blocking their way, in one case dragging a person by the hair and in other cases pushing them down a flight of stairs. The people seen in videos being hit, kicked and thrown around by police included elderly people with their dogs, young girls and regular citizens of all stripes. Many tried to shield themselves from being smacked on the head. Some screamed in fear.

Tensions were running so high that Barcelona played its game against Las Palmas without fans at the Camp Nou stadium.

Barcelona wanted to postpone the game but said the Spanish league refused the request.

Barcelona mayor Ada Colau called on Mr Rajoy to resign after the violence.

Spain's foreign minister Alfonso Dastis called the violence "unfortunate" and "unpleasant" but "proportionate".

Elsewhere, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson rejected opposition calls for the UK to intervene with the Spanish Government over the police crackdown.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn urged the Government to intervene with Madrid over the police action.

Mr Corbyn condemned the "shocking police violence" being used as he insisted Prime Minister Theresa May contact her Spanish counterpart over the situation.

He tweeted: "I urge Theresa May to appeal directly to Rajoy to end police violence in Catalonia & find political solution to this constitutional crisis."

However, Mr Johnson insisted the situation was something for Spain to deal with.

He tweeted: "The Catalonian referendum is a matter for the Spanish govt & people. Imp that Spanish constitution respected & rule of law upheld. Spain is a close ally and a good friend."

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