Spanish official apologizes for police actions during Catalan referendum

By Eric DuVall  |  Oct. 6, 2017 at 11:13 AM
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Oct. 6 (UPI) -- The Spanish government's top official in Catalonia apologized in an interview Friday for the conduct of police who were seen beating largely peaceful voters at polling stations.

The Catalan government said dozens were injured in clashes with police loyal to Spain's national government, which had declared the referendum illegal. Video showed police using physical force against protesters and shooting rubber bullets in an attempt to disperse crowds of demonstrators.

"When I saw those images -- and knowing that people were hit, shoved and one was even taken to hospital -- all I can do is apologize on behalf of the officers who intervened," said Enric Millo, the government's top representative in the region.

Still, Millo blamed Catalan leaders who pressed forward with the referendum despite government warnings it would be blocked after Spain's constitutional court ruled it an illegal vote.

The apology comes as the central government in Madrid has adopted a softer approach to Catalonia in the days since the violence surrounding the referendum drew international condemnation.

Instead of the harsh rhetoric, the Spanish government has responded with financial muscle, approving a measure that would make it easier for businesses in Catalonia to pick up roots and relocate outside the province to another part of the country. Thus far, Catalonia's two largest banks have announced plans to do so, along with several other large businesses, Bloomberg reported.

Backed by the European Union, which has sided with the Spanish government and thus far refused to confer legitimacy on the Catalan independence referendum, businesses have cited the potential of being frozen out of business in other parts of the Eurozone if leaders press forward to declare their independence.

Catalan leaders said the referendum passed with 90 percent of the vote, though due to the chaotic events surrounding the vote and with access blocked to many polling places, turnout was limited to 42 percent of eligible voters. Opinion polls conducted in the run-up to the vote showed a more closely divided public, leading to questions about the outcome's legitimacy. It's possible many "no" voters took their cue from the Spanish government and boycotted the polls, or were intimidated into staying home by the tens of thousands of demonstrators who flooded the streets of Barcelona and other cities on Sunday.

The Spanish government is also pressing forward with the possibility of sedition charges against regional officials, including Catalonia Police Chief Josep Lluís Trapero. The New York Times reported Trapero appeared before a judge in the capital Madrid on Friday to answer charges his officers failed to assist police brought in from other parts of the country to prevent Sunday's vote from taking place.

Following the closed-door hearing, Trapero told reporters he was "very satisfied" by the hearing, but did not elaborate on why.

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