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EU Calls for Talks to End Spanish Independence Dispute


A man holds an Estelada (Catalan separatist flag) as people gather at Plaza Catalunya after voting ended for the banned independence referendum, in Barcelona, Spain October 1, 2017. REUTERS/Susana Vera

European leaders are urging talks to solve a dispute between Spain's government and the leaders of an independence movement in Catalonia.

The northeastern province has long considered a vote on independence from Spain.

A statement Monday from the European Commission called on all sides in the dispute to move “from confrontation to dialogue.”

The statement came after a violent crackdown by Spanish police who tried to stop a referendum on independence Sunday in Catalonia. Spain’s government and Constitutional Court had declared the referendum illegal.

Nearly 900 people were injured in clashes after Spanish riot police entered voting stations to stop people from voting. In some cases police used batons and fired rubber bullets to clear protesters. Officials said most of the injuries were not serious.

Spain’s Interior Ministry said more than 400 National Police and Civil Guard officers also suffered injuries during the clashes. Most of the injuries were not serious and no officers were hospitalized.

The European Commission statement said “violence can never be an instrument in politics.” It added that it trusted Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to manage the crisis in a way that respects “both the Spanish constitution and the rights of citizens.”

Spanish riot police swings a club against would-be voters near a school assigned to be a polling station by the Catalan government in Barcelona, Oct. 1, 2017.
Spanish riot police swings a club against would-be voters near a school assigned to be a polling station by the Catalan government in Barcelona, Oct. 1, 2017.

The European Union and most of its 28 nations have not backed Catalonia's independence movement. Experts say EU officials are fearful that supporting it could open the door for many other independence campaigns across the continent.

The movement’s leaders had hoped the police crackdown might cause European leaders to take steps to intervene in the dispute with Spain’s government.

The leader of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, told a news conference Monday that international mediation is needed to resolve the dispute. He said Catalonia had “won the right to become an independent state.” He urged the EU to “stop looking the other way” in Catalonia’s bid to break away from Spain.

Puigdemont said early results showed more than 90 percent of voters supported independence. Forty-two percent of voters reportedly took part. He said the area’s parliament will be asked to declare independence in the next few days after final voting results are announced.

Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, center, speaks to the media at a sports arena designated a polling station by the Catalan government, in Sant Julia de Ramis, near Girona, Spain, Oct. 1, 2017.
Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, center, speaks to the media at a sports arena designated a polling station by the Catalan government, in Sant Julia de Ramis, near Girona, Spain, Oct. 1, 2017.

Several human rights organizations and the United Nations called for an independent investigation into police violence during the operations to stop voting.

However, Spanish officials said the police response was needed to enforce a judicial order to prevent the referendum from taking place. About 5,000 extra police officers were sent to Catalonia and are expected to remain there for now.

Catalonia, with the coastal city of Barcelona as its capital, has a population of 7.5 million people. It makes up about one-fifth of Spain's economy. Public opinion studies have repeatedly shown that most Catalonia residents support a referendum. However, the studies found they are about evenly divided on the issue of independence from Spain.

I’m Bryan Lynn.

Bryan Lynn wrote this story based on reports from VOA News, the Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse. Mario Ritter was the editor.

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Words in This Story

confrontation n. argument or clash over something

dialogue – n. discussion or series of discussions between two groups

referendum – n. election in which the people in an area vote for or against an issue of public concern

baton n. thick stick sometimes used by police as a weapon

mediation – n. process to find a solution between two or more people who disagree about something

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