BARCELONA, Spain - Cataloniaâ€™s defiant bid to hold a referendum on independence from Spain degenerated into ugly scenes of mayhem on Sunday, with more than 800 people injured as riot police attacked peaceful protesters and unarmed civilians gathered to cast their ballots in a vote the government had banned as unconstitutional. Thirty-three officers were also injured.
Hundreds of police armed with truncheons and rubber bullets were sent in from other regions to confiscate ballots and stop the voting, and amateur video showed some officers dragging people out of polling stations by the hair, throwing some down stairs, kicking them and pushing them to the ground. Anguished, frightened screams could be heard.
â€śWhat the police are doing is simply savage,â€ť said Jordi Turull, spokesman for the Catalan regional government, which backs independence. â€śItâ€™s an international scandal.â€ť He said Spain has become â€śthe shame of Europeâ€ť with its iron-fist tactics.
Police were acting on a judgeâ€™s orders to stop the referendum, which the Spanish government had declared illegal - and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said going forward with the vote only served to sow divisions.
In a televised address after the majority of polls closed Sunday, he thanked the Spanish police, saying they had acted with â€śfirmness and serenityâ€ť - comments sure to anger Catalonians.
Spanish Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis said the violence, while â€śunfortunateâ€ť and â€śunpleasantâ€ť was â€śproportionate.â€ť
â€śIf people insist in disregarding the law and doing something that has been consistently declared illegal and unconstitutional, law enforcement officers need to uphold the law,â€ť Dastis told The Associated Press in an interview.