Catalonia is a region in north-east Spain, separated by the Pyrenean Mountains from Southern France. It is one of the richest and most highly industrialised regions in Spain and many Catalans think of themselves as a separate nation.
With a population of around 7.5 million people, they have their own language and is recognised as a separate nation under the Spanish constitution with a high degree of autonomy.
Catalonia has its own parliament and executive. In 2014, there was a non-binding vote on independence in which 80% of voters said “yes.” However, the Spanish government says that Catalionia has no constitutional right to break away.
In 2015, separatists won Catalonia’s election and wanted a binding referendum which defies Spain’s constitution that states that the country is indivisible. This began a huge debate and has left tensions between the region and central government.
In September the Catalan government brought in a referendum law that stated that a declaration of independence has to take place within 48hrs of a Yes vote. The Catalan President, Carles Puigdemont insisted that “no other court or political body” could suspend his government from power and the referendum was planned for October.
The Constitutional Court suspended the law passed by the Catalans, officials were arrested and websites about the election were all shut down.
On Sunday the referendum attempted to take place but police took control to stop voters. Catalonia’s own police force was ordered to accept the command of Spain’s paramilitary Civil Guard to stop the vote taking place.
Voting did take place in some areas but more than 800 people were injured. Over 4,000 police were brought in from outside Catalonia to help the local police and national officers who were out to stop the vote.
Images have been released that show violence from Spanish police, kicking would-be voters and pulling women out of polling stations by their hair. Riot police also smashed their way into a polling station in Girona where they forcibly removed those inside.
The government in Madrid is currently holding talks with Spain’s political leaders to discuss a response to the crisis. After the violence, the Catalan government now thinks it has a stronger mandate to possibly declare independence without the consent of Madrid.
Now, there is a waiting game whilst both regions work out their next move.