The Latest: Catalan voter changes mind amid police crackdown

BARCELONA, Spain — The Latest on Catalonia’s plans to hold a referendum Sunday on breaking away from Spain (all times local):

2:10 p.m.

Elisa Arouca was waiting to vote outside the Estel school in central Barcelona when National Police agents yanked her and other prospective voters out of the way, used a mace to smash the door open, and confiscated the ballot boxes.

The violence had an impact on her. She had been planning to vote in favor to keeping Catalonia part of Spain, but decided instead to join the push for independence. She moved to another polling station to try and cast her vote.

Arouca said that “I was always against independence but what the Spanish state is doing is making me change my mind. The National Police and Civil Guard are treating us like criminals. I was most likely going to vote “No” until the National Police sent me flying. Now I will try to vote Yes.”

She only made up her mind to vote Wednesday after the Spanish officials made a series of arrests designed to shut down the disputed voting process.

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2 p.m.

Barcelona’s mayor has called for Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to step down in the wake of the violent police response during a banned independence referendum in Catalonia.

Ada Colau says that “if this is a democracy, the police action should be stopped immediately so we can later have a dialogue, which is what is needed.”

The mayor was scheduled to vote at a secondary school, but wasn’t able to do it because police blocked access to the polling station.

Colau supports the vote as Catalan’s expression of their political will but says that it can’t be considered a binding referendum because it hasn’t been agreed by the state, as Spain’s Constitution requires.

She called Sunday’s scuffles and clashes between voters and police “a rupture” of Rajoy’s government, saying “Rajoy has to clearly step down because he has failed in his political responsibilities.”

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1:40 p.m.

A member of the Israeli Parliament observing Catalonia’s independence referendum says she was shocked by the use of rubber bullets by Spanish police against crowds of unarmed protesters.

Ksenia Svetlova said Sunday the bullets used “can squash somebody’s head.” She said she hadn’t expected to see such tactics used in Europe.

She said she saw people bleeding and injured on the scene.

Svetlova says that “we did expect a normal democratic process. We knew that a lot of police were here but still, you know, there should be a respect for the will of the people to vote regardless of what you think of the referendum.”

Svetlova says she was part of a delegation of about 30 people from other countries invited by Catalan regional officials to see the voting process.

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1:30 p.m.

Several hundred people have staged protests in central Madrid in favor of Spanish unity and against the pro-independence referendum authorities in northeastern Catalonia are trying to hold.

Some 300 people gathered Sunday in the city’s Plaza Mayor square, waving Spanish red and yellow flags and chanting slogans in favor of Spanish unity.

Half the crowd then moved to Madrid’s emblematic Sol square and staged a second rally in front of the regional government’s headquarters.

The protesters applauded police standing guard outside the building in a show of support for Spain’s security forces.

Spain has sent thousands of police reinforcements to northeastern Catalonia to try to prevent the referendum from taking place.

Protests for and against the Catalan secession referendum were to be held again in Madrid later Sunday.

Major anti-independence protests took place in cities across Spain, including Catalonia, on Saturday.

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1:20 p.m.

Catalonia’s ombudsman has said he will complain about the Spanish government’s tactics to European authorities including the European Council.

Rafael Ribo said Sunday the government forces had used disproportionate tactics in “violent actions against citizens” while trying to shut down the disputed independence referendum.

Ribo, an appointee by the regional parliament who leads the office overseeing citizens’ rights, said in an emotional appearance before reporters that the Spanish government has shown “little respect for human rights.”

He called on the government to stop all violent actions against citizens.

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12:45 p.m.

The Spanish government’s top official in Catalonia says that security forces are acting “professionally” to enforce a judicial decision to halt a banned referendum on the region’s secession from Spain.

Enric Millo, the central governments delegate in the northeastern region, has thanked the National Police and Civil Guard forces for their efforts to “oversee safety of all Catalans and for guaranteeing their rights.”

Millo said that “today’s events in Catalonia can never be portrayed as a referendum or anything similar.”

Spanish police have fired rubber bullets at protesters and smashed into polling stations to try to halt the voting.

A spokesman for Catalonia’s regional government has labelled the crackdown as “repression” and called for Millo to step down for the handling of the police response.

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12:30 p.m.

Catalonia’s regional leader has condemned the Spanish police crackdown on people trying to vote in the disputed independence referendum.

Catalan President Carles Puigdemont said that “police brutality will shame forever the Spanish state” after police smashed their way into voting centers and fired rubber bullets to disperse crowds.

Police have been ordered to prevent the vote from taking place.

Puigdemont was welcomed by cheering crowds at the gymnasium where police broke in to halt voting. The Catalan leader was meant to vote there in Sant Julia e Ramis but had to choose a different polling center instead.

He said the Spanish government had damaged itself by its actions.

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

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11:30 a.m.

Catalonia’s government spokesman says that the disputed independence referendum is underway in 73 percent of about 6,000 polling stations despite a police crackdown to try to halt the vote and technological obstacles.

Jordi Turull called for Catalans to remain calm and patient but to defend “in a civic and peaceful manner” their right to vote after riot police blocked voting in some polling centers and confiscated ballot boxes amid clashes with protesting voters. Police have also fired rubber projectiles at protesters in Barcelona.

Turull said that “the world has seen the violence of the Spanish state,” calling actions by the police as “repression that is a reminder of the Franco era” in reference to Spain’s dictatorship from 1939-1975.

Turull said the Spanish government’s representative in Catalonia, Enric Millo, should resign over the handling of the crackdown.

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11:10 a.m.

Spanish riot police have fired rubber projectiles at protesters outside a Barcelona polling station during Catalonia’s disputed independence referendum. Several people have been wounded.

The officers fired the projectiles while trying to clear protesters who were trying to impede National Police cars from leaving after police confiscated ballot boxes from the voting center.

An AP photographer witnessed how several people had been injured during the scuffles outside Barcelona’s Rius i Taule school, where some voters had cast ballots before police arrived.

Manuel Conedeminas, a 48-year-old IT manager who tried to block police from driving away with the ballot boxes, said agents had kicked them before using their batons and firing the projectiles, which were ball-shaped.

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10:45 a.m.

Several members of the Catalan regional government cast their ballots in a banned referendum on independence from Spain that became messy as riot police moved Sunday to halt voting in several polling centers.

Catalan regional president Carles Puigdemont voted in Cornella de Terri, near the northern city of Girona, after police took over control of the original polling center where he was due to appear, his spokesman Joan Maria Pique told The Associated Press.

Puigdemont has spearheaded the separatist politicians’ push to go ahead with the vote, despite a Constitutional Court suspension and fierce opposition by central authorities.

Regional vice president Oriol Junqueras also found his designated polling station taken over by police and moved to a different location where he eventually voted, regional broadcaster TV3 said.

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10:25 a.m.

Electoral volunteers at polling centers in Catalonia’s disputed referendum say they are unable to access census data because the website that hosted it is down, while internet service has been cut in some of the stations.

Technicians are working to set up new domains for the website where electoral managers need to register polling data, said Jordi Sole, a 48-year-old historian who displayed an accreditation with the regional government’s logo and said that was at the Collaso high school in Barcelona to assist with the voting.

Guillem Castillo, an 18-year-old engineering student designated as an electoral official there, said technical problems halted the voting shortly after it opened.

Spanish media reported similar problems with internet in polling centers across Catalonia.

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10:10 a.m.

Spanish riot police have forcefully removed a few hundred would-be voters from a polling station at a school in Barcelona.

Daniel Riano was inside when the police pushed aside a large group gathered outside busted in the Estela school’s front door.

The 54-year-old Riano said that “we were waiting inside to vote when the National Police used force to enter, they used a mace to break in the glass door and they took everything.”

He said that “one policeman put me in a headlock to drag me out, while I was holding my wife’s hand. It was incredible. They didn’t give any warning.”

Ferran Miralles said a crowd scuffled with police outside as they formed a tight perimeter around the door. Miralles said “they were very aggressive. They pushed me out of the way.”

Elsewhere in Barcelona, police have detained several people outside the Treball voting center amid scuffles on the street. Officers dragged some of the protesters away and detained them.

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9:30 a.m.

Spanish riot police have smashed their way into a polling station in Catalonia where the regional leader was expected to show up to vote in the disputed independence referendum.

Civil Guard riot police with shields have used a hammer to smash the glass of the front door of the voting center and lock cutters to force their way in. Scuffles erupted outside between police and people waiting to vote at the polling center in Sant Julia de Ramis, near the Catalan city of Girona.

There were no immediate reports of injuries. Television footage showed police using batons to disperse the crowds gathered outside the local sports center.

Catalan president Carles Puigdemont was scheduled to vote in the Sant Julia de Ramis sports center at 9.30 a.m. (0730 GMT; 3:30 a.m. EDT).

Puigdemont has spearheaded the separatist politicians’ push to go ahead with the vote, despite a Constitutional Court suspension and fierce opposition by central authorities.

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9 a.m.

Polling has begun in a banned referendum on Catalonia’s independence, with the first voters casting ballots amid cheers in some of the designated polling stations.

Parents, children and activist volunteers had occupied some of the 2,315 schools and other facilities to avoid closure from police acting on court orders.

Spain’s Constitutional Court ordered the vote to be suspended and central authorities say it’s illegal. Regional separatist leaders have pledged to hold it anyway, promising to declare independence if the “yes” side wins, and have called on 5.3 million eligible voters to cast ballots.

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8:30 a.m.

Catalan officials say that voters will be allowed to cast ballots at any polling station, rather than a designated one as previously announced, as many locations have been sealed off by police.

Regional government spokesman Jordi Turull says the last-minute system will allow the 5.3 million eligible voters to cast a ballot and avoid repeated votes.

Turull says that Catalans will be able to vote with ballots printed at home if needed, announcing that authorities had printed new ones after 5 million paper ballots were confiscated by police. He also said that a group of “academics and professionals” would serve as election observers.

The electoral board appointed by the regional parliament was disbanded last week to avoid hefty fines by Spain’s Constitutional Court.

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8:10 a.m.

Ballot boxes began arriving at some polling stations for a disputed referendum on Catalonia’s split from Spain that is being met with fierce opposition from Spanish authorities.

Police acting on court orders have been trying to confiscate ballot boxes for weeks as the crackdown to halt the vote intensified.

On Friday, officials unveiled a prototype of the plastic ballot boxes with a logo of the regional government.

Spain’s Constitutional Court ordered the vote to be suspended and central authorities say it’s illegal. Hopeful voters have been occupying out some of the designated voting stations to avoid police taking control and closing them off.

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6.25 a.m.

Some of the Catalans who are defying court orders to vote in a disputed referendum on their region’s secession from Spain say they want to send a strong message of displeasure with central authorities.

Activist Augsti Gil says there were no ballots or ballot boxes in Barcelona’s Joan Fuster high school where more than a hundred people have joined another hundred who spent the night occupying the designated polling station.

Gil says they expect materials to arrive Sunday morning ahead of the 9 a.m. opening of polls.

Joaquim Bosch, a 73 year-old retiree at Princep de Viana high school, where a crowd of 20 people was growing says he is uneasy about a possible police response to the crowds.

Bosch says: “I have come to vote to defend the rights of my country, which is Catalonia.”

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