Catalonia votes to break away from Spain in unauthorized referendum

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The autonomous region of Catalonia has voted to break away from Spain in an unauthorized referendum, the regional government announced on Monday after more than 800 people were injured in a crackdown by Spanish police.

The regional government said that more than 2.2 million ballots, or 95 percent of the vote, had been counted as of early Monday morning. Of those, 90.1 percent voted in favor of independence from Spain while 7.9 percent voted against.

Catalan President Carles Puigdemont described the referendum as a “day of hope and suffering,” but said the region’s citizens had “earned the right to have an independent state.” The results will now go to Catalonia’s parliament, which will decide on whether to issue a declaration of independence.

The central government in Madrid strongly condemned the referendum, saying that the vote was illegal and would lead nowhere. Spanish police launched a crackdown on voting day in an attempt to stop the referendum, resulting in clashes in which at least 844 people were injured.

The full results of Sunday’s referendum may never be known as Spanish police confiscated ballot boxes throughout the day and the number of votes taken is unknown. Dozens of polling stations were also shut down, which – along with clashes – may have decreased the turnout.

Catalonia has insisted that it will seek to implement the results of the vote, even though Spain’s constitution requires that a referendum on sovereignty takes place nationally, not regionally. It allows Madrid to suspend the regional government’s authority or, in the worst case, send in security forces.

Catalonia, which has a total population of 7.6 million people, has long sought independence from Spain. Many of its residents feel that the wealthy region contributes far more to the Spanish economy than it gets back through central government funds.

Catalonia also called an independence referendum for 2014, but Spain’s Constitutional Court sided with Madrid and ordered the Catalan government to suspend the vote. The autonomous region went ahead nonetheless, although it made some changes to indicate that the vote had no legal effect.

In the referendum, more than 80 percent of participants voted in favor of independence from Spain by voting “yes-yes” in a two-part question. Another 10 percent voted in favor of Catalonia becoming a country but chose “No” when asked whether it should be independent from Spain.

Earlier this year, former Catalan President Artur Mas was fined 36,500 euros ($40,860) and banned from holding public office for 2 years for organizing the 2014 referendum. The conviction and a recent recession led to a renewed push for independence and as many as 1 million people took to the streets of Barcelona last month.

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