Spanish police storm polling station in Catalonia independence vote

Footage and images on social media showed the authorities pushing, shoving and kicking people, some of whom were bloodied

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Spanish police cracked down on polling stations as voting began in Cataloniaā€™s banned referendum on independence.

Footage and images on social media showed the authorities pushing, shoving and kicking people, some of whom were bloodied. One image showed an elderly woman being dragged by two police officers, and another showed a man being escorted by police with his shirt ripped and soaked in blood.

Catalan television showed riot police arriving to one polling station in downtown Barcelona at around 8.45am local time, 15 minutes before polling opened. They ordered voters to leave, as crowds shouted: ā€œOut the way, we will vote.ā€

Police blocked access to the public school building, where the polling was taking place, and removed the ballot boxes.

Enric Millo, the Spanish governmentā€™s representative in Catalonia, said in a televised statement that the referendum has been ā€œdismantledā€.

ā€œThe National Police and the Civil Guard had to act. TheĀ CatalanĀ police have put their political criteria ahead of the professional criteria,ā€ he said in a televised statement. ā€œWe had to do what we didnā€™t want to.ā€

Police burst into a polling station, in a town in Girona province, minutes beforeĀ CatalanĀ leader Carles Puigdemont was due to vote there, reported Reuters.

They shattered glass panels to force open the door as voters, fists in the air, sang theĀ Catalan anthem.

The referendum, which was declared illegal byĀ Spain's central government, has raised fears of street violence as a test of will between Madrid and Barcelona plays out.

TheĀ CatalanĀ government had scheduled voting to open at 9am at around 2,300 designated stations, but Madrid said on Saturday it had shut more than half of them.

Voting started at some sites in the region of 7.5 million people, which has its own language and culture and is an industrial hub with an economy larger than that of Portugal.

Leader Puigdemont changed plans and voted at a different station after the police action, the regional government said.

People had occupied some stations with the aim of preventing police from locking them down. Organisers smuggled in ballot boxes before dawn and urged voters to use passive resistance against police.

In a school used in a voting station in Barcelona, police in riot gear carried out ballot boxes while would-be voters chanted "out with the occupying forces!" and "we will vote!".

TheĀ CatalanĀ government said voters could print out ballot papers at home and lodge them at any polling station not closed down by police.