Catalonia and Spain map out their next moves after chaotic vote for independence

 In World
Hours after 2 million citizens voted overwhelmingly in a controversial, chaotic referendum in the Catalonia region to declare independence from Spain, the secessionist leaders here planned an emergency meeting to map out their next steps for establishing a new nation.

The lopsided vote on Sunday is sure to be vigorously challenged in Madrid. Before the vote, Spanish courts and central government in Madrid had declared the referendum illegitimate and illegal.

According to the Catalan government, which announced the results early Monday, 90 percent of the ballots cast were for independence — with 2,020,144 voting yes and 176,566 no.

Turnout was low — just 42 percent. More than 2.2 million people were reported to have voted, according to Catalan authorities, out of 5.3 million registered voters. 

Many people in Catalonia who opposed independence said they would not vote in the referendum, which they denounced a sham.

Yet on Sunday night, just minutes after the first few thousand votes from a handful of towns were posted, the regional president and leading secessionist, Carles Puigdemont, appeared on stage to announce that Catalonia had won “the right to independence” and called on Europe to support its split from Spain.

But nothing about the vote was normal — or orderly, transparent or peaceful. Images of police beating voters in stylish, cosmopolitan Barcelona fueled a widespread perception that Europe, in particular, and the West, in general faces more tensions and dislocation.

And it is far from clear that Catalonia is any closer to independence. 

Puigdemont promised he would present results now to the Catalan parliament, which has previously stated it would seek independence if the vote supported it.

In a television address late Sunday, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said there was no real independence vote in Catalonia. He said a majority of the residents of the region had not even showed up at the polls.

On Monday, Rajoy said he would meet with the leadership of his and other parties and chart a path forward.

In Brussels, the European Commission’s chief spokesman said Monday the Catalan plebiscite was “not legal” under the Spanish constitution, but he pressed the sides to talk and avoid violence.

The vote left the region and nation deeply divided.

From thousands of windows in Madrid, people flew Spanish flags in a spontaneous display of support for Spanish unity. 

In Madrid, many did not see a true referendum in Catalonia, but a public relations stunt, albeit a violent and disturbing one. They saw a vote that lacks even the basic elements of legitimacy.

Spanish TV featured a report showing how a journalist was able to vote several times to demonstrate how loose the controls.

Puigdemont’s rushed assertion that he would seek independence — before the results were announced — was met with ridicule.

Another point repeated in the Madrid news media is that few voices in Catalonia publicly supported the “No” vote, because the independentistas were bullies who appropriated the public discourse.

In fact, the fragmentation of Catalan society and the “silent majority” are big themes in Madrid.

Spain’s Constitutional Court has ruled that the referendum was illegal and it appeared certain that the plebiscite would again be before the judges.

The two sides could not even agree on facts. Catalan officials said 319 of about 2,300 polling stations had been shuttered by police. Spain’s interior ministry said 92 stations had been closed.

In Barcelona, trade unions and political parties called a general strike on Tuesday to protest allegations of police brutality.

Over the weekend, boisterous activist-voters had brought their children into schools to defend the polling stations deemed illegal by the central government and the courts in Madrid.

Soon after the polls opened, Spanish riot police smashed into the voting centers, their raids caught on mobile phone cameras that showed them whipping ordinary citizens with rubber truncheons and dragging them away by their hair.

The plebiscite produced anxiety and shock across Europe — where many condemned the violence by the police but also worried that Catalan secessionists were violating the constitution.

The secessionists said Spain’s heavy-handed attempt to snuff out the referendum stirred memories of the county’s dark decades of dictatorship. 

Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau called the day’s violence between police and citizens “a rupture” in society.

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