Police vs firefighters: officers clash in defining images of Catalonia referendum

PUBLISHED : Monday, 02 October, 2017, 1:55pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 October, 2017, 3:06pm

In chaotic scenes that have become defining images of the violence-tainted Catalan independence referendum, Spanish riot police clashed with Catalan firefighters who stood protectively in front of voters at a polling station near Girona.

The police had apparently gone to the Sant Julia de Ramis sports centre on Sunday to intercept Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, who was supposed to vote there.

He was welcomed by cheering crowds at the gymnasium.

Catalonia votes overwhelmingly for independence from Spain

But civil guard officers, wearing helmets and carrying shields, used a hammer to break the glass of the front door and a lock cutter to break into the sports centre.

They faced off against the firefighters, also clad in helmets and uniforms, and eventually waded in, swinging their batons to disperse the firefighters in scenes captured on video.

A woman injured outside the building was wheeled away on a stretcher by paramedics.

Puigdemont, who eventually voted at a different location, said “police brutality will shame forever the Spanish state”. The referendum, which was won with a 90 per cent vote in favour of independence, was condemned as illegal by the federal authorities in Madrid.

Puigdemont said that “today, the Spanish state has lost much more than what it had already lost, while Catalonia has won.”

At Sant Julia de Ramis, organisers of the vote were one step ahead of police and spirited away the ballots and hid them in the classrooms amid colouring books and crayons.

An hour later, after police had driven away in their big black vans, under a hail of insults, the ballot boxes re-emerged and the voting began again.

Regional authorities said more than 800 people across Catalonia had suffered minor injuries in brawls with police, who dragged protesters out of their way and whipped them with rubber batons. The officers fired scores of rubber bullets at crowds gathered at voting centres in Barcelona and other cities. Officials in Madrid said a dozen police officers had been injured.