01001, Київ, Україна

Catalan Leaders Claim Right to Independence After Controversial Vote

Catalonia’s government said early Monday that preliminary results show that 90 percent of voters in Sunday’s referendum want the region to declare its independence from Spain.

Regional government spokesman Jordi Turull said 2.02 million of the 2.26 million votes cast were for independence. He said nearly 8 percent of voters rejected independence and the rest of the ballots were blank or void.

Voter turnout was about 42 percent in Catalonia which has an electorate of 5.3 million voters.

Catalonia regional President Carles Puigdemont said he would keep his pledge to declare independence unilaterally if the “Yes” side won Sunday’s disputed referendum on secession from Spain.

Watch: Catalonia President

In a televised address after polls closed, Puigdemont said Catalonia had “won the right to become an independent state” and urged the European Union to stop looking “the other way”.

The government of Spain, however, forcefully disagreed. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who spoke from Madrid Sunday slammed the vote – calling it illegal and an attack on the rule of law.

“At this hour, I can tell you in the strongest terms what you already know and what we have seen throughout this day. There has not been a referendum on self-determination in Catalonia today,” Rajoy said.

Puigdemont replied, saying Rajoy was bringing shame on his country.

“The exterior image of the Spanish state keeps getting worse and today they have reached embarrassing levels that will always be always remembered,” Puigdemont said.

Officials in Catalonia said more than 800 people were injured when police tried to keep residents from voting. Spain’s Constitutional Court had suspended a law passed by the region’s parliament calling for the vote, but the referendum was held anyway.

Police officers from Spain’s national police forces raided polling places in an effort to close them down and halt voting. Video showed police dragging people from polling stations and beating and kicking would-be voters and demonstrators.

Puigdemont said he would appeal to the European Union to look into alleged human rights violations in connection with the violent efforts to halt the vote.

In Pictures: Catalonia Independence

In a statement issued late Sunday, the State Department said the United States supports a strong and united Spain. The U.S. also supports the right to free assembly, the statement said, and urged those involved to act in a way consistent with Spanish law.

Several labor unions and other organizations called for a strike Tuesday to protest the police crackdown.

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