SPAIN is facing a political and constitutional crisis after Catalans voted in favour of independence in a contested referendum that descended into chaos when police launched a widespread and violent crackdown.
The Catalan government said it had earned the right to split from Spain after results showed 90% of those who voted were in favour of a split, CNN reports.
But amid an unexpectedly harsh response from Spanish police, turnout was only around 42%. The Catalan health ministry said 893 people were injured in the clashes Sunday as riot police raided polling stations, dragged away voters and fired rubber bullets.
The Catalan President Carles Puigdemont denounced the police crackdown as the worst violence Catalonia had seen since the military dictatorship of Francisco Franco and demanded the withdrawal of Spanish national forces from the region.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, called for “independent and impartial investigations into all acts of violence” around the independence referendum and asked the Spanish government to allow UN human rights experts to visit.
“Police responses must at all times be proportionate and necessary,” he said in a statement. “I firmly believe that the current situation should be resolved through political dialogue, with full respect for democratic freedoms,” he added.
Trade unions in Catalonia called a strike and a mass demonstration for Tuesday, an action likely to test public support for the Catalan government in the aftermath of Sunday’s chaos.
The Spanish government of Mariano Rajoy said it was discussing its response with opposition parties in Madrid.
All eyes were on the Catalan government as it considered its next move. Under the referendum legislation passed by the Catalan parliament, the regional government has 48 hours after the result is finalized to declare independence from Spain. Final votes were still being counted Monday.
Spanish National Police clashes with pro-referendum supporters in Barcelona Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017. Catalonia's planned a referendum on secession is due to be held Sunday by the pro-independence Catalan government but Spain's government calls the vote illegal since it violates the constitution, and the country's Constitutional Court has ordered it suspended.
The Catalan President stopped short of declaring independence from Spain Monday — a move that would further deepen the crisis. But Puigdemont called for an international arbiter to mediate the crisis, ideally the European Union. “This moment needs mediation,” he said. “We only received violence and repression as an answer.”
Puigdemont said Catalonia did not want a “traumatic break” with Madrid. “We want a new understanding of the Spanish state,” he said.
If the Catalan government unilaterally declared independence from Spain, Rajoy could suspend the President and take over the running of the province. Such a move would inflame tensions considerably and would likely be the last resort for Rajoy.
Several thousand people gathered outside Barcelona’s town hall Tuesday morning where the executive of the autonomous Catalan government was meeting.
People shouted, “Long live free Catalonia, we are peaceful people and we only want to vote.”