Catalan referendum: Hundreds injured as violence erupts at polling stations in Spain after police ordered to shut down illegal vote

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Police and voters have clashed in Spain (Source: Getty)

Hundreds of people have been hurt as they headed to polling stations in Spain to cast a vote on the matter of Catalan independence.

The Catalan department of health said that 761 people needed medical assistance after police tried to stop the voting taking place. Around half of those injured were in Barcelona.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy defended police actions at a press conference this evening, saying that the referendum had been “real attack on the rule of law... to which the state reacted with firmness and serenity”.

Catalonian leader Carles Puigdemont said this evening that the region had won the right to become an independent nation. He appealed to the EU, saying that "Catalans have earned the right to be heard in Europe."

Barcelona mayor Ada Colau demanded an "immediate and to police charges against the defenceless population".

The referendum on the region becoming independent was declared illegal by Spain's constitutional court last month.

Police used force to shut it down, confiscating ballot boxes and voting slips as well as removing people from the polling stations, 92 of which have been closed down.

Spain's interior ministry said 12 police officers have been injured and three arrests have been made.

Interior minister Juan Ignacio Zoido called police actions proportionate and professional.

The world's reaction

Catalonia’s foreign minister Raül Romeva said on Sunday the regional government had informed the EU of a “violation of fundamental rights that puts the very EU at risk”.

But the European Union has yet to issue a formal response.

A spokesperson for the UK Foreign Office said:“The referendum is a matter for the Spanish government and people. We want to see Spanish law and the Spanish constitution respected and the rule of law upheld.”

This was later echoed by foreign secretary Boris Johnson on Twitter.

The FCO's response was condemned by Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon, who said it was "shamefully weak", and adding: "A true friend of Spain would tell them todays' actions [were] wrong and damaging."

Former Belgian Prime Minister and senior MEP Guy Verfofstadt condemned the violence and said it was time for "de-escalation" in Catalonia.