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Catalan government says 90% voted to leave Spain

[BARCELONA] The Catalan government said around 2.26 million people had cast a ballot in a banned referendum to leave Spain on Sunday and 90 per cent of them had voted in favour of secession. This represents a turnout of around 42.3 per cent of Catalonia's 5.34 million voters.

Catalonia's regional leader opened the door to a unilateral declaration of independence from Spain on Sunday after police used batons and rubber bullets to disrupt a banned referendum in a show of force Catalan officials say injured more than 800.

Carles Puigdemont's comments followed a TV address by Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy who ruled out independence and accused separatists of trying to "blackmail...the whole nation". He offered all-party talks on the region's future.

The referendum has pitched the country into its deepest constitutional crisis in decades and deepened a rift between Madrid and Barcelona.

"On this day of hope and suffering, Catalonia's citizens have earned the right to have an independent state in the form of a republic," Mr Puigdemont said in a televised address.

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"My government, in the next few days will send the results of today's vote to the Catalan Parliament, where the sovereignty of our people lies, so that it can act in accordance with the law of the referendum," he said.

The law of the referendum, deemed unconstitutional by Madrid, foresees a unilateral declaration of independence by the regional parliament of Catalonia if the majority votes to leave Spain.

Earlier in the day, the streets of Catalonia, an industrial and tourism powerhouse accounting for a fifth of the economy, erupted into violence as national police burst into polling stations with batons, dragging voters away.

The action drew criticism at home and abroad. British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson voiced worries over the violence while backing Madrid's view that the vote was unconstitutional.

Spain's deputy prime minister said force used by the police had been proportionate.

"The absolute irresponsibility of the regional government has had to be met by the security forces of the state," said Soraya Saenz de Santamaria.

The euro fell around a third of a US cent after the violence-marred vote to as low as US$1.1776 in early Asian trade but soon steadied at US$1.1801. Liquidity, though, was very thin with Chinese and Australian markets on holiday.

In the run-up to the referendum, Mr Puigdemont had said he would move a declaration of independence within 48 hours of a "yes" vote. But the fragmented nature of the polling, with many voting stations closed, could complicate any move to a formal declaration.

Mr Puigdemont called on Europe to step in to make sure fundamental rights were fully respected.

In another sign tensions would endure beyond the vote, secessionist groups and trade unions in Catalonia called a general strike for Tuesday, La Vanguardia newspaper said.

Catalan officials said 844 people had been injured in the police crackdown and the Spanish Interior Ministry said 12 police had been hurt.

"I propose that all political parties with parliamentary representation meet and, together, reflect on the future we all face," Mr Rajoy said in his televised address.


Opinion polls have shown around 40 per cent of the northeastern region wants independence from Spain although a majority were in favour of a referendum on the issue.

National police sent in to Catalonia for the referendum swept into polling stations, hitting people with batons, firing rubber bullets into crowds and forcibly removing would-be voters from polling stations, some dragged away by their hair.

"Regardless of views on independence, we should all condemn the scenes being witnessed and call on Spain to change course before someone is seriously hurt," Scotland's pro-independence leader, Nicola Sturgeon, said on Twitter.

Despite the national police action, some polling stations remained open, especially in areas supervised by the Catalan police force which adopted much milder tactics.

"I'm so pleased because despite all the hurdles they've put up, I've managed to vote," said Teresa, a 72-year-old pensioner in Barcelona who had stood in line for six hours to vote.

It was still not known when the results would be announced, a regional government spokesman said, adding it had been a long day and it would be a long count.

However many vote, a "yes" result is likely, given that most of those who support independence are expected to cast ballots while most of those against it are not.

The ballot will have no legal status as it has been blocked by Spain's Constitutional Court which ruled it at odds with the 1978 constitution that effectively restored democracy in Spain after the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco.


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