Horrific images from Catalonia show police clashing with voters outside of polling stations. People are bloodied and battered, having attempted to vote in an independence referendum that Spain says is illegal.
Among the polling stations targeted was one in Girona, where Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont was set to vote.
“The irresponsible and unjustified use of violence from the Spanish state will not undermine the desire of the Catalan people to peacefully and democratically vote,” Puigdemont said afterwards.
But the Spanish government defended the actions of the police.
“The Spanish police have fulfilled the orders of justice,” Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría said. “They have acted professionally and in a proportional and proportionate manner.”
It was an altogether different story before dawn at a polling station in central Barcelona. Voters flooded the streets to block the path of the police and keep the polling stations open.
“I don’t know how much violence there can be. But it is a possibility,” one witness said. “So it is an act of responsibility. It is for everybody, our children, our families. That’s why we do this.”
Catalan police arrived ahead of the vote but left without confrontation shortly afterwards.
An hour before the polls opened, ballot boxes arrived in black bin liners. But as people began casting their votes, the Spanish National Police and the Guardia Civil arrived at polling stations across the region.
Chaos and violence ensued.
One clash saw the national police scuffle with Catalan police, while another saw fighting break out with Catalan firefighters.
Across Barcelona, however, lines of people continued to build as thousands cast their votes.
“I was not scared, but I thought maybe something might happen,” one voter said. “It definitely puts some anxiety in the people. And it is not positive, all these police here. It is like a military state.”