MADRID, Oct 2, (Agencies): Spain vowed Monday to stop Catalonia from declaring independence after a banned referendum that saw riot police use batons and rubber bullets, as the country grappled with its deepest crisis in decades.
The government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy was holding emergency talks after Catalan president Carles Puigdemont declared Sunday that the region had won the right to break away from Spain. Images of riot police beating up would-be voters with batons and firing rubber bullets to disperse crowds during Sunday’s referendum in the wealthy northeastern region shocked many in Spain and its neighbours in Europe.
Puidgemont appealed on Monday for international mediation to help solve the crisis, and called for all police sent in to Catalonia for the vote to be removed. In its first reaction on Monday, the European Union urged all sides to “move very swiftly from confrontation to dialogue” and said violence should not be part of politics.
A jubilant Puigdemont said late Sunday that 90 percent of voters taking part in the referendum had voted for independence for Catalonia, defying the police crackdown and the fierce opposition from Madrid. The regional government said 2.26 million people actually took part in the vote, or just over 42 percent of the electorate in Catalonia. Puigdemont said his people had “won the right to an independent state” in Catalonia, a region of 7.5 million people which accounts for one fifth of Spain’s economic output.
But any attempt to unilaterally declare independence is likely to be opposed not just by Madrid but also a large section of the Catalan population which is deeply split on the issue. His declaration sets the restive region on course for a deeper split with the Spanish government, after Rajoy reiterated his government’s position that the vote was an illegal act, to which the state had reacted “with firmness and serenity”.