Catalan referendum: EU urged to ‘stop looking other way’

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Catalonia’s leader has called for international mediation and for the European Union “to stop looking the other way” in the region’s bid to secede from Spain, a day after a violent crackdown by Spanish police trying to block referendum voting.

Carles Puigdemont also said he would file a complaint against Spanish police after officers fired rubber bullets, smashed into polling stations on Sunday and beat back protesters with batons.

Protestors young and old took to the streets of Barcelona in a show of defiance after the police crackdown on voting in the disputed referendum. Picture: AFP/Getty Images

Protestors young and old took to the streets of Barcelona in a show of defiance after the police crackdown on voting in the disputed referendum. Picture: AFP/Getty Images

Mr Puigdemont gave no further details on his legal plans to challenge police, but urged Spain’s national police reinforcements to leave the north-eastern region.

However, Spanish authorities commended officers, saying they had acted professionally and that their response was proportionate.

Spain’s interior minister said the 5,000 extra officers deployed to Catalonia would stay as long as necessary.

Catalan officials say an overwhelming majority of voters supported independence from Spain, but the central government in Madrid has repeatedly condemned the referendum as illegal, unconstitutional and invalid.

The EU and most governments in the 28-nation bloc have not backed Catalonia’s independence movement, fearful that it could unleash a wave of secessionist movements on the continent.

But Mr Puigdemont called for the EU to consider Catalonia’s desire to break away from Spain as a regional problem, and urged Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy’s government to accept mediation.

“The European Union has to stop looking the other way,” Mr Puigdemont said.

“This is not a domestic issue. The need for mediation is evident.”

Earlier, an EU statement implored both sides to pull back from confrontation in favour of dialogue.

More than 890 people were injured, most of them not seriously, in confrontations with police trying to shut down the voting. More than 30 police officers were also injured.

Speaking after a closed-door meeting, the Catalan president said the regional parliament plans to declare independence in the next days.

The referendum debacle brought Spain and Catalonia closer to a potentially disastrous showdown as each side said Sunday’s events proved them right and neither looked prepared to cede ground.

Mr Rajoy, meanwhile, will meet Popular Party leaders before seeking a parliamentary session to discuss how to confront the country’s most serious crisis in decades.

He also called an afternoon meeting with the leaders of the opposition Socialist and Ciudadanos (Citizens) parties to discuss Spain’s options.

The impasse developed after Catalan authorities decided to go ahead with Sunday’s referendum even after Spain’s Constitutional Court suspended it.

The Spanish central government denies the referendum even took place, while Catalan separatists say it was valid and justifies making a final break with Spain. Catalonia said preliminary poll results showed 90 per cent favoured independence after less than half the electorate voted.

Clashes broke out at a number of voting locations after riot police turned up to prevent people from voting and to confiscate ballot boxes.

Some Catalans said both sides were responsible for the mayhem.

“I am very annoyed for the both sides involved in what happened yesterday,” said Eric Tigra, 56.

“I think both sides involved committed grave mistakes. But we must also highlight that if the people of Catalonia go out in the streets and you don’t listen to them then something is not working right.”

The EU urged all sides in Spain to move from confrontation to dialogue. “These are times for unity and stability,” a spokesman said.