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A man draped in a Catalan independence flag in Barcelona on the day of the referendum. Photograph: Tass/Barcroft Images

Catalonia referendum: region holds emergency meeting after tumultuous poll

WT24 Desk

The Catalan regional government is holding an emergency meeting to discuss the next steps towards declaring independence from Spain, a day after millions of Catalans voted in a tumultuous poll that left more than 800 people injured,The Guardian reports.

Preliminary results from Sunday’s vote showed that 90% of people cast their ballots in favour of independence, according to the Catalan government.

At least 844 people and 33 police were reported to have been hurt on Sunday after riot police stormed polling stations in a last-minute effort to stop the vote.

A spokesman said 2.26 million Catalans – 43% of the region’s 5.3 million eligible voters – had taken part in the referendum, which was staged in defiance of the Spanish government, the country’s constitutional court and the Catalan high court. The Catalan government had not set a threshold for minimum turnout in the election, arguing the vote would be binding regardless of the level of participation.

The regional president, Carles Puigdemont, has vowed to declare unilateral independence from Spain within 48 hours of a victory for the yes campaign. Speaking on Sunday night, Puidgemont said it had been a day of hope and suffering that had shown Catalonia had earned the right to independence.

He said: “My government, in the next few days, will send the results of [the] vote to the Catalan parliament, where the sovereignty of our people lies, so that it can act in accordance with the law of the referendum.”

The European Commission urged all sides in the crisis to “move very swiftly from confrontation to dialogue” on Monday and said violence should not be part of politics, without attributing blame to anyone.

“Violence can never be an instrument in politics,” the statement said. “We trust the leadership of prime minister Mariano Rajoy to manage this difficult process in full respect of the Spanish constitution and of the fundamental rights of citizens enshrined therein.”

Jean-Claude Juncker, the European commission president, is due to speak to Rajoy this afternoon by phone, the commission’s chief spokesman added.

The commission also reiterated that it regards the question of Catalan independence as “an internal matter” and that Sunday’s vote had been illegal. “If a referendum were to be organised in line with the Spanish constitution it would mean that the territory leaving would find itself outside of the European Union.”

The UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, said he had been “disturbed by the violence in Catalonia” on Sunday, and called on Spainto accept requests by UN human rights experts to visit the region.

“With hundreds of people reported injured, I urge the Spanish authorities to ensure thorough, independent and impartial investigations into all acts of violence,” he said in a statement. “Police responses must at all times be proportionate and necessary.”

The Spanish tennis player Rafael Nadal said on Monday he felt like crying following the vote. Nadal, a national hero in Spain who spoke out before the referendum to condemn it, was visibly moved as he addressed a press conference in Beijing ahead of the start of the Chinese Open.

“I want to cry when I see a country where we have known how to co-exist and be a good example to the rest of the world get to a situation like this,” he said. “ I have spent many parts of my life in Catalonia, important moments, and to see society so radicalised surprises and disheartens me.” In a symbolic referendum held in Catalonia three years ago, 80% of voters backed independence, with 2.3 million of the region’s 5.4 million eligible voters taking part.

Although millions of Catalans managed to cast their ballots on Sunday, others were forcibly stopped from voting as schools housing ballot boxes were raided by police acting on the orders of the Catalan high court. The Spanish government defended its response and said the police had been acting to defend the constitution and Spanish democracy.

Rajoy thanked the police for acting with “firmness and serenity” as they attempted to halt the poll. “Today there has not been a self-determination referendum in Catalonia,” he said on Sunday night. “The rule of law remains in force with all its strength. We are the government of Spain and I am the head of the government of Spain and I accepted my responsibility.

“We have done what was required of us. We have acted, as I have said from the beginning, according to the law and only according to the law. And we have shown that our democratic state has the resources to defend itself from an attack as serious as the one that was perpetrated with this illegal referendum. Today, democracy has prevailed because we have obeyed the constitution.”

Rajoy is due to meet the leaders of Spanish opposition parties later on Monday and to hold a parliamentary session to discuss events in Catalonia.

The actions of the Spanish authorities were immediately criticised by Catalan politicians. Ada Colau, the mayor of Barcelona, demanded an end to police operations and called for Rajoy’s resignation.

Artur Mas, the former Catalan president whose government staged the symbolic referendum in 2014, also called for the “authoritarian” Rajoy to stand down, adding that Catalonia could not remain alongside “a state that uses batons and police brutality”. Sunday’s violence came less than 24 hours after the Spanish government had appeared confident that enough had been done to thwart the vote.

On Saturday, Enric Millo, the most senior Spanish government official in the region, said police had sealed off 1,300 of the region’s 2,315 polling stations. Guardia Civil officers acting on a judge’s orders also searched the headquarters of the Catalan technology and communications centre, disabling the software connecting polling stations and shutting down online voting applications.

“These last-minute operations have allowed us to very definitively break up any possibility of the Catalan government delivering what it promised: a binding, effective referendum with legal guarantees,” he said.

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