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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 17 December 2018

Updates: Catalonia referendum - 90% voted for independence, officials say, with 844 casualties claimed

Click here for an overview of the day's events

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01.00am CET: Catalan government says independence wins with 90 percent of votes

Catalonia's government said that 90 percent of those who voted in Sunday’s referendum backed independence.

In a press briefing, regional government spokesman Jordi Turull said 2.02 million Catalans voted "yes" to the question: "Do you want Catalonia to become an independent state in the form of a republic?"

He added 2.26 million people took part.

The region has 5.3 million voters.

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11.15pm CET: Catalan leader demands 'EU stops looking the other way' and says region has earned the right to have an independent state

Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont called Sunday on the EU to stop looking "the other way" following a police crackdown on an independence referendum banned by Madrid.

"I have to call directly on Europe," he said in a televised statement. "The European Union can no longer continue to look the other way."

The head of the regional government opened the door to a potential declaration of independence of Catalonia from Spain after a day of tensions in the northeastern region where police were deployed to thwart an independence vote.

"On this day of hope and suffering, Catalonia's citizens have earned the right to have an independent state in the form of a republic," Carles Puigdemont said in a televised address, surrounded by members of his government.

"My government, in the next few days will send the results of today's 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," he also said.

The law of the referendum foresees a unilateral declaration of independence by the regional parliament of Catalonia if the majority votes to leave Spain.

Preliminary results point to an overwhelming majority of Catalans voting to leave after a referendum that had been banned by the constitutional court and declared illegal by Madrid.

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10.30pm CET: Numbers of injured police rise to 33

Spain's Interior Ministry says 33 police officers were hurt when they carried out raids to try to stop an independence referendum in the northeastern region of Catalonia.

The ministry says 19 members of the National Police and 14 Civil Guard were hurt when police smashed their way into polling stations on Sunday.

Meanwhile, the regional government said that 844 people have now been reported injured in disturbances across Catalonia.

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10.20pm CET: Unions and independence groups call for general strike on Tuesday

Pro-independence groups and trade unions in Catalonia have called for a general strike in the northeastern Spanish region for Oct. 3, La Vanguardia newspaper reported citing the head of the group Omnium Cultural Jordi Cuixart.

Catalonia's economic output is worth around a fifth of Spain's total gross domestic product and the region has an economy around the size of that of Chile.

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10.10pm CET: General strike called in Catalonia for Tuesday

Pro-independence organizations call general strike on October 3 to protest against violent crackdown on #CatalanReferendum

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9.50pm CET: Catalans gain dubious support of Venezuelan president

In an intervention perhaps best described as the pot calling the kettle black, the embattled Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro slammed his Spanish counterpart Mariano Rajoy for trying to halt a banned independence referendum in Catalonia, saying the conservative leader was a hypocrite for supporting Venezuela's opposition while cracking down on dissent at home.

Spain has been a vocal critic of leftist Maduro, accusing him of undermining Venezuela's democracy and plunging the country's 30 million people into suffering due to food and medicine shortages.

Maduro seized on the images of Spanish riot police bursting into polling stations across Catalonia on Sunday, confiscating ballot boxes and voting papers, as evidence that it is Rajoy who lacks democratic credentials.

"Who is the dictator?" said Maduro at the start of his hours-long Sunday television show.

"Mariano Rajoy has chosen blood, sticks, blows, and repression against a noble people. Our hand goes out to the people of Catalonia. Resist, Catalonia! Latin America admires you," added Maduro.

Venezuela's opposition, in turn, accused Maduro of hypocrisy in attacking Rajoy, saying the Venezuelan leader violently clamped down on four months of protests demanding humanitarian aid, early elections, and respect for the opposition-led Congress.

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9.45pm CET: Mixed reaction from across Europe to today's protests

The force used by Spanish police to prevent an independence vote in Catalonia on Sunday provoked condemnation from some European politicians while others, mindful of separatist movements in their own nations, sounded a note of caution.

Serbian foreign minister Ivica Dacic:

"Our position is clear and principled, Spain is one of the greatest friends of Serbia". Madrid is in "the same position on the issue of the territorial integrity of Serbia."

French economy minister Bruno Le Maire:

"Spain is a friendly nation, a proud people. Clearly I hope that civil peace will reign in Spain."

EU parliament Brexit chief Guy Verhofstadt:

"I don't want to interfere in the domestic issues of Spain but I absolutely condemn what happened today in Catalonia."

Scottish leader Nicola Sturgeon:

"Regardless of views on independence, we should all condemn the scenes being witnessed and call on Spain to change course before someone is seriously hurt."

Belgium prime minister Charles Michel:

"Violence can never be the answer! We condemn all forms of violence and reaffirm our call for political dialogue."

Ex-Barcelona footballer Gary Lineker:

"Truly awful scenes in Catalonia. Disgusting."

Barcelona mayor Ada Colau, on Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy:

"He is a coward who does not live up to his state responsibilities... as a result he must resign."

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9pm CET: Spanish prime minister claims there was no referendum in Catalonia

Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy said Sunday that the rule of law had prevailed in Catalonia because an independence referendum in the region prohibited by the courts had been blocked.

"Today there has not been a self-determination referendum in Catalonia. The rule of law remains in force with all its strength," he said in a televised address.

His remarks were greeted in Barcelona with derision.

The prime minister also claimed that Spanish security forces had "performed their duty" in Catalonia.

Mr Rajoy blamed the unrest in the region on local politicians who had pushed forward with the referendum.

"The responsibility for these acts solely and exclusively falls on those who promoted the rupture of legality and coexistence.

"The vast majority of the people of Catalonia did not want to participate in the secessionists’ script. They have shown that they are law-abiding people and quietly ignored the call [to vote] … All Spaniards value their attitude."

He went on to say that the rule of law had prevailed and that the actions of the Spanish government had been within the law.

"We cannot allow the progress of the past 40 years to be replaced by blackmail," Mr Rajoy said.

"Today we all have reasons to trust our democracy. This only served to hurt our coexistence. I offer dialogue within law. I expect them (Catalans) to renounce to what they have done so far."

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8.30pm CET: Spanish government actions in Catalonia criticised by left-wing politicians

Pablo Iglesias, the leader of Spain's far-left party Podemos, said on Twitter that the ruling party and its leader Mariano Rajoy, the prime minister, should stand down.

"To open a new scenario of dialogue and coexistence, it is necessary to send the PP and Ciudadanos to the opposition," Iglesias said on Twitter in reference to the PP's allies in parliament.

"If something breaks Spain it will be because the PP and those who support it in parliament continue to destroy democracy," he added in messages accompanied by pictures of injured protesters, some of them bleeding.

Pablo Echenique, a leading member of Podemos, wrote on Facebook that the PP's policies in Catalonia, could "fracture a society and destroy a country".

"You have to remove the tumour before it kills the patient," he added.

PP spokesman Fernando Martinez-Maillo defended the government, saying that "the only ones responsible for what is happening in Catalonia today is (Catalan president Carles) Puigdemont, the government of Catalonia and its partners."

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8.20pm CET: Catalan government claims casualty count has risen to 761

The Catalan department of health has raised the casualty count from today's events to 761, almost 300 people more than they had claimed earlier this afternoon. Two people remain in serious condition. The figures have been disputed

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8pm CET: British parties split on response to Catalan crisis

The situation in Catalonia has seen a split between the main parties in the United Kingdom.

The Foreign Office released a short statement saying that "the referendum is a matter for the Spanish government and people. We want to see Spanish law and the Spanish constitution respected and the rule of law upheld. Spain is a close ally and a good friend, whose strength and unity matters to us."

Emily Thornberry, Labour’s shadow foreign secretary, was more forthright, saying: "Police violence in Catalonia today is shocking, and the Spanish government should take action to end it now.

"While we believe disputes over sovereignty should be resolved in accordance with rules and laws, and any referendum on these issues needs to be both democratic and fair, it is unacceptable for the Spanish authorities to overreact to today’s events through aggressive police action and the forcible closure of polling stations.

"They must respect the right to peaceful protest, and all sides must strive to come together and reach a political solution to this constitutional crisis. Violence of any sort will simply worsen divisions, and make a resolution harder to reach."

er view was echoed by the Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable, who urged foreign secretary Boris Johnson to call in the Spanish ambassador to admonish him about the national police's reaction and actions towards demonstrators.

Mr Cable said: "Police in a democracy should never drag people violently out of polling stations, whatever the arguments for or against holding a referendum. The police response looks to have been brutal and completely disproportionate.

"The foreign secretary should break off from conspiring against the prime minister and call in the Spanish ambassador to tell him that this is unacceptable."

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7.35pm CET: Defiant Catalans go to the polls as Madrid tries to shut down referendum

At least 460 people were injured as Spanish police burst into voting stations and charged at Catalans trying to vote in an independence referendum that has plunged Spain into a constitutional crisis.

Amid pouring rain, buzzing helicopters and wailing sirens from emergency vehicles, Spanish police in body armour and with shields raided several schools where voting was taking place to stop Catalans from registering their votes. The police used batons and rubber bullets in Barcelona, while pro-secessionists threw rocks at officers in response to the crackdown.

“Police are coming to the polling stations and beating them up. We’ve seen a lot of blood,” Marta Rosique, a pro-independence spokesperson told The National.

“They are using violence in order to stop people from deciding their future. The people are actually acting in a very pacific way – as we have always done. But their answer is just violence.”

Catalan officials also criticised the police’s use of disproportionate force as early reports said 73 per cent of polling stations were open to voters. The police were acting under orders from the central government in Madrid, which says it is protecting the constitution as it prohibits secession unless approved by parliament. At least 460 people were injured in Barcelona, said the Catalan Emergency Services. There were also reports of police clashing with voters in towns outside Barcelona.

“We have initiated contacts with the EU about the violation of fundamental rights that puts the very same EU at risk,” said the Catalan foreign minister Raül Romeva.

Read our on-the-ground report from Barcelona on a day of high drama and violence in full

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6.45pm CET: First condemnation from senior EU politician as Guy Verhofstadt attacks use of 'disproportionate' violence

The first comment from a senior EU politician on the situation in Catalonia has come through. Guy Verhofstadt, Group Leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Group and a former Belgian prime minister, condemned the violence out of hand

"I don’t want to interfere in the domestic issues of Spain but I absolutely condemn what happened today in Catalonia.

"On one hand, the separatist parties went forward with a so-called referendum that was forbidden by the Constitutional Court, knowing all too well that only a minority would participate as 60 % of the Catalans are against separation.

"And on the other hand - even when based on court decisions - the use of disproportionate violence to stop this.

"In the European Union we try to find solutions through political dialogue and with respect for the constitutional order as enshrined in the Treaties, especially in art. 4.

"It’s high time for de-escalation. Only a negotiated solution in which all political parties, including the opposition in the Catalan Parliament, are involved and with respect for the Constitutional and legal order of the country, is the way forward."

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6.35pm CET: Social media users cast doubt on Spanish deputy PM's claim of 'proportionate' response

Earlier on Sunday Spain's deputy prime minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria praised Spanish police who have been operating in Catalonia today. She condemned the “absolute irresponsibility” of the Catalan regional government and went out of her way to pay laud the professionalism of the Spanish security forces.

“They have complied with the orders of justice. They have acted with professionalism and in a proportionate way. They have always sought to protect rights and liberties,” she said.

However, users of social media who have been posting videos of the security forces' actions have reacted angrily to the claim, pointing out such instances as a police officer jumping down a flight of stairs to stamp on protesters, a video showing a man apparently having a fit after being manhandled by the police, and footage of baton charges.

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6.15pm CET: Catalan department of health gives breakdown of casualties

The Catalan Department of Health has released a breakdown of the 465 people injured so far today in the region. The two most seriously injured are in hospitals in Sant Pau and Vall d'Hebron.

216 in the Barcelona region

80 in the Girona region

64 in the Lleida region

53 in the Terres de l'Ebre region

27 in the Central Catalonia region

25 in the Tarragona region

Elsewhere, it was reported on Sky News that the rubber bullets which were used earlier in the day were actually illegal for use in Catalonia, according to the constitution of the region.

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5.30pm CET: Spanish riot police working alongside mysterious plain-clothed men claimed to be 'Nazis'

A video posted on Twitter appears to show what are claimed to be far-right activists working alongside the Guardia Civil. At the end of the 45-second video clip at least eight men, one of whom has his face covered, can be see marching alongside officers of the national police force. The Twitter user claims that they are 'Nazis' but this is unverifiable.

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5.20pm CET: Guardia Civil accuse Catalan police of failing to enforce referendum verdict

Spain's Guardia Civil has accused the Catalan police force, the Mossos, of standing by and not enforcing the Spanish court order to halt the referendum. They have posted footage which shows the forces engaged in a very heated stand-off.

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4.57pm CET: Casualty count increased

Barcelona's mayor Ada Colau has tweeted that the amount of injured from today's protests has increased from its previous count of 337. "Over 460 people injured in Catalonia already. As Mayor of BCN I demand an immediate end to police charges against the defenceless population."

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4.46pm CET: Protest against Spanish suppression of Catalan referendum in London

An impromptu protest against the violence in Catalonia is being held in Piccadilly Circus in the heart of London's West End. Scores of people holding Catalan flags have gathered around the iconic Eros statue there and are chanting and giving speeches.

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4.40pm CET: Spanish riot police attack firemen protecting Catalan crowds

More footage has emerged which appears to show riot police officers attacking Catalan firefighters who were protecting crowds of independence supporters.

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4.08pm CET: FC Barcelona to play La Liga game behind closed doors in protest

In a strongly worded statement, FC Barcelona have criticised the decision of the Spanish league forcing them to play their La Liga game today against Las Palmas and have decided to play the fixture behind closed doors in protest.

The club statement reads: "FC Barcelona condemns the events which have taken place in many parts of Catalonia today in order to prevent its citizens exercising their democratic right to free expression.

"Given the exceptional nature of events, the Board of Directors have decided that the FC Barcelona first team game against Las Palmas will be played behind closed door following the Professional Football League's refusal to postpone the game."

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3.50pm CET: Reports of continued violence and reaction from European politicians

Unverified footage on Twitter posted within the last 20 minutes appear to show that the morning's violence was continuing in the Barcelona district of Barceloneta.

Meanwhile, the decision to send police in to aggressively suppress the protests have met with condemnation from political leaders across Europe. Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon said "Some of the scenes in Catalonia this morning are quite shocking and surely unnecessary. Just let people vote.

"[I am] increasingly concerned by images from [there]. Regardless of views on independence, we should all condemn the scenes being witnessed and call on Spain to change course before someone is seriously hurt. Let people vote peacefully."

The Belgian prime minister Charles Michel said: "Violence can never be the answer! We condemn all forms of violence and reaffirm our call for political dialogue."

And British Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn tweeted "Police violence against citizens in #Catalonia is shocking. The Spanish government must act to end it now."

The Catalan government has now claimed that "337 people have been injured by the Spanish state police violence", but there was no initial independent verification of this figure.

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1pm CET: Rubber bullets fired as Catalan referendum turns bloody

Tensions boiled over on Sunday morning in Catalonia when Spanish national police fired rubber bullets and attacked Catalan referendum voters, as well as forcing their way into activist-held polling stations as thousands flooded the streets to vote in an independence referendum banned by Madrid.

Catalonia's emergency services said Sunday they have treated 38 people who were injured in the police. Thirty-five people were lighty injured, while three others were “more seriously” hurt, they said on Twitter, adding that nine of the injured had to be taken to health centres. “The injuries were mostly bruises, dizziness and anxiety attacks,” they added.

Spain's interior ministry countered by saying that 11 police officers had been injured in Catalonia following violent clashes.

Scuffles broke out as police moved in to seal off polling stations and seize ballot boxes to prevent people from voting across the region.

In central Barcelona, riot police forced their way inside a school to seize ballot boxes, charging at demonstrators who were sitting on the ground blocking their way.

Catalan president Carles Puigdemont blasted the “unjustified violence” as emergency services said 38 people were hurt.

Riot police also stormed a polling station near Girona, smashing the glass doors of the sports centre where Puigdemont was due to vote, then cutting a chain to force their way in. Inside, they bagged up ballot boxes in black bin liners, wrapping them in police tape before hauling them away.

But the regional government said Puigdemont had managed to vote anyway, tweeting pictures of him casting his ballot in Cornella del Terri, some 10 kilometres (six miles) away.

Meanwhile Spain's central government demanded that Puigdemont call off the referendum, dismissing the vote as a “farce”.

“Puigdemont and his team are solely responsible for all that has happened today and for all that can happen if they do not put an end to this farce,” Madrid's representative in Catalonia Enric Millo told a news conference.

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Read more:

Spanish police storm polling station in Catalonia independence vote