Oct. 1 (UPI) — More than 300 people were injured in clashes with police during voting on Sunday in Catalonia’s independence referendum.
Police officers, under orders from the Spanish government in Madrid, are preventing people from voting, which began at 9 a.m. at thousands of sites. Police at schools warned parents that they would be arrested if they did not leave the premises by 6 a.m. local time Sunday.
Police seized paper ballots and boxes.
Despite the raids, the Catalonian government said more than 70 percent of the 2,315 polling stations were open Sunday afternoon.
Catalonia is a culturally distinct region of 7.5 million people in northeastern Spain.
The Catalonian regional government and health department said 337 people went to hospitals or health centers. The Spanish interior ministry said 11 police officers were also hurt.
“The unjustified use of violence … by the Spanish state will not stop the will of the Catalan people,” pro-referendum leader Carles Puigdemont said.
But Spanish Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido blamed Puigdemont for the violence.
The Guardia Civil, a paramilitary force, said officers were carrying out its duties “in defense of the law” but were “resisting harassment and provocation.”
In Girona, where Puigdemont was due to vote, riot police smashed their way into a polling station and removed ballots. Puigdemont voted at another polling station.
“Today, I have seen the worst actions that a government can do to the people of its own country,” voter Julia Graell told the BBC. She said “police started to kick people, young and old.”
Several thousand parents and their children occupied hundreds of polling stations before the vote to keep them from being locked down by National Police and Guardia Civil militia officers.
In the former textile town of Sabadell, the fifth-largest city in Catalonia, Francesc Condina hid the ballot boxes for three weeks in a dusky wine cellar in the heart of the city. Then, the plastic tubs were transported in the down in black plastic.
“They were disguised as bags of trash,” Condina said to The Washington Post. “But this was democracy we carried in our hands.”
During pro-referendum protests Sunday in the regional capital of Barcelona, police used batons and fired rubber bullets to disperse the crowds.
Catalonia, which comprises 16 percent of Spain’s population, is not recognized as a separate nation under the Spanish constitution despite its own language and culture.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy says the vote is a violation of the constitution, which he said is “the indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation, the common and indivisible homeland of all Spaniards.”
The Spanish government shut down websites promoting the referendum, but new apps popped up to guide voters to the nearest polling station.