Spain wants to bring a halt to Sunday’s independence referendum in Catalonia, calling it a “farce.”
Enric Millo, Madrid’s representative in Catalonia, said Catalonia’s president Carles Puigdemont and his team “are solely responsible for all that has happened today and for all that can happen if they do not put an end to this farce.”
Police in riot gear smashed the front door of a polling station with a hammer in Catalonia Sunday where the regional leader was expected to cast his vote in the banned independence referendum.
Scuffles between the police and voters erupted outside the polling center in Sant Julia de Ramis, near the Catalan city of Girona.
Catalan leader Puigdemont was scheduled to cast his vote at Sant Julia de Ramis, but instead voted at Cornella del Terri in the province of Girona.
Catalans began voting Sunday in the disputed independence referendum, while police seized the ballots of at least one polling station.
Spain’s Interior Ministry said on Twitter more ballot boxes would be snatched as police continued their deployment in Catalonia.
A regional government spokesman said voters could cast their ballots at any polling station, instead of their designated one, since Spanish authorities have sealed off some polling stations and confiscated ballots. Clashes between police and voters were reported in several districts.
There are reports of Spanish police firing rubber bullets at voters. A Catalan spokesman says 73 percent of polling stations are open, but their computer system is suffering constant hacking attacks.
Jordi Turull, Catalonia’s government spokesman, called on Catalans to continue to carry out their right to vote “in a civic and peaceful manner,” in the face of police blocking voters from some polling stations.
Turull said the police actions are reminiscent of the “repression that is a reminder of the Franco era,” a reference to Spain’s dictatorship from 1939 – 1975.
Spain’s Constitutional Court suspended the vote and the Spanish central government says the vote is illegal.
Hundreds of people in favor of the referendum camped out in schools and other designated polling places in an attempt to keep them open for Sunday’s vote.
Millo, the highest-ranking Spanish security official in the northeastern region, said Saturday police had already blockaded half of the more than 2,300 polling stations designated for the referendum vote.
He said Spanish authorities also had dismantled the technology Catalan officials had planned on using for voting and counting ballots, which he said would make the referendum “absolutely impossible.”
Catalan officials said they would move forward with the vote despite the actions taken by Spain’s central government.
Police have received orders to avoid the use of force.
Spanish Culture Minister Inigo Mendez de Vigo said Friday the independence vote violates Spanish law and the government will not accept the results of the referendum.
Catalonia represents a fifth of Spain’s $1.32 trillion economy and enjoys wide self-government. The region has about 5.5 million eligible voters.
It is not clear if the Catalans would vote for independence.
Polls in the northeastern region show support for self-rule waning as Spain’s economy improves. But the majority of Catalans say they do want the opportunity to vote on whether to split from Spain.