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Spain Sends Riot Police To Stop Catalan Referendum


In northeast Spain today, violence has broken out at polling stations in Catalonia, where they're holding an independence referendum.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's the sound of riot police clashing with voters. Hundreds of people have been injured. Spain considers the independence vote unconstitutional. It sent in police from all over the country to stop it. And now reporter Lauren Frayer joins us from a polling station in the Catalan capital, Barcelona. Good morning.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Good morning, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what are you seeing?

FRAYER: Frankly horrible scenes. There's no way to describe it - police dragging voters out of polling stations - some by the hair - smashing windows, cutting computer cables with wire cutters. Hundreds of people have been injured, some of them seriously. We're seeing pictures of elderly people with blood streaming down their faces. The interior ministry says about a dozen police officers have also been hurt. People have been throwing rocks down on them from balconies above.

Not far from here there, was a long line of armored vehicles in the street. And there was one elderly lady just screaming at them (speaking Spanish) - shame, shame on you. Catalonia's regional president says this is a dreadful image of Spain or of any democracy. The polling station where I am right now - ballot boxes had to be smuggled into the building before dawn in garbage bags so that they weren't confiscated by police.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Why such a crackdown? I mean, these are Spanish citizens.

FRAYER: They are. Spanish officials say they were forced into this. Today's referendum has been ruled unconstitutional by Spanish courts. Spanish officials ordered Catalan leaders to desist. They did not. The Catalan Regional Police appear to have ignored orders to crack down on their fellow Catalans. This polling station where I am is in a school. And parents and teachers camped out here overnight. Catalan Regional Police did show up this morning very briefly and left. They didn't lift a finger. In fact, people here applauded them and said those police are on our side. They're our regional force.

And then hours later, national police sent here from all over Spain rolled in to do the job - to do the crackdown. These raids appear to be hardening already very hardened positions here. Here's one of the vote organizers. His name is Lluis Rotger. He's sort of bewildered, frankly. He says life in Barcelona has just turned on a dime.

LLUIS ROTGER: We go to work. We take coffee. Now we are in front of guns. We are surrounded. It's true. But I think, at the end, we will win. How? I don't know.

FRAYER: He thinks that as the world sees these scenes, the Catalans will get more support internationally. No country in the world has said it would recognize an independent Catalonia. The European Union has treated this as an internal Spanish matter. But lots of people here that I've been speaking with think it just simply can't go on any longer. There must be some sort of international mediation or intervention here.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Lauren - just briefly - despite the violence have people actually been able to cast their ballots?

FRAYER: They have. I mean, officials say, despite the clashes, voting is happening at nearly three of polling stations including the one that I'm at right now. They're about - well more than 1,000 people in line here still to vote. But all sort of looking over their shoulders for police at any moment who might stop them.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Lauren Frayer reporting from Barcelona this morning. Thank you so much.

FRAYER: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.
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