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Spain's foreign minister downplays police violence during Catalan vote

By Maya Oppenheim

Spain's foreign minister has argued police violence during Catalonia's independence vote was "not extraordinary" and claimed "fake photos" of brutality have been circulating on social media.

Violent scenes erupted across Catalonia on Sunday as riot police beat protesters and stormed polling stations in an 11th-hour attempt to prevent the vote on independence from Spain going ahead.

It's believed almost 900 people and 430 police were hurt.

Foreign minister Alfonso Dastis sought to downplay the violence which saw police fire rubber bullets despite them being illegal in Catalonia, use batons and drag peaceful protesters from the ground.

Clashing with Sky News' Europe correspondent Mark Stone, Mr Dastis claimed some of the photos he had spotted online dated back to 2012 and he was keen to await "pieces of information that are not disputable".

He said: "I'm sure you have seen what you have seen, but I have seen fake photos that date back to 2012. So, I think we have got to be patient, and look at the situation, and really work out a way to find an appropriate solution within the law."

Mr Stone hit back: "You talk about fake news. Think it is pretty hard to fake things that actually happen in front of you. So, there may well be fake photos on the internet, I don't know about that, but clearly what we saw today was unfolding in front of us."

After Mr Stone described the brazen displays of violence he witnessed first-hand, Mr Dastis said he had "not seen the violence you seem to have seen" and claimed police had tried to be proportionate in their response.

He said: "I don't agree with you that this is an extraordinary level of violence. You may think people were peacefully exercising their right to vote but the problem is this so-called referendum had been held to be illegal by the constitutional court."

Emergency services said most of the wounded people had minor injuries such as "bruises, dizziness and anxiety attacks", but there were also said to be some serious injuries.

On Sunday morning the regional government tweeted 73% of polling stations (4,561) were open, but by the middle of the afternoon Spain's interior ministry said 92 polling stations had been closed.

The regional government said Catalonia had overwhelmingly voted for independence from Spain, with 90% of over two million votes counted saying 'yes'. A spokesman said 2.26m Catalans - 43% of the region's 5.3m eligible voters - had participated in the referendum despite the police forcibly preventing some from casting their ballot.

Regional president Carles Puigdemont has pledged to declare unilateral independence from Spain within 48 hours of a victory for the yes campaign.

The European Commission confirmed the independence referendum in Catalonia was "not legal" under Spanish law but also urged the Spanish Government to start a dialogue, arguing brutality could not be a political instrument.

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