Spanish police fired rubber bullets at protestors who tried to push a banned independence referendum Sunday in the region of Catalonia.
The protestors were reportedly trying to stop the National Police from leaving a polling location with confiscated ballot boxes. Catalan officials claim 38 people were treated with minor injuries.
“Police brutality will shame forever the Spanish state,” Catalan President Carles Puigdemont told a crowd of supporters, according to The Associated Press.
Courts deemed the referendum unconstitutional, and the national government defended the use of rubber bullets and batons.
“Today’s events in Catalonia can never be portrayed as a referendum or anything similar,” Enric Millo, a government representative in the region told AP.
Tens of thousands of people are expected to attempt to vote in schools around the region throughout the day. Police inspected 1,300 out of the 2,315 designated polling stations Saturday, with 163 being occupied by separatists. Police have sealed off the remaining facilities.
The standoff was mostly peaceful leading up to the referendum, and Puigdemont has called on Catalans to remain calm and not use violence.
“I don’t believe there will be anyone who will use violence or who will want to provoke violence that will tarnish the irreproachable image of the Catalan independence movement as pacifist,” Puigdemont told Reuters.
Catalonia has pushed for a legitimate referendum for years. An 80 percent majority backed independence in a symbolic referendum in 2014, which the federal government ruled unconstitutional. Three former officials, including the former Catalan President Artur Mas, were barred from holding public office as a result.
Spain has threatened to suspend hundreds of mayors for backing Sunday’s referendum. Polls suggest that a majority of people want to remain part of Spain while also supporting the vote to settle the issue.
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