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Catalan Independence Referendum Turns Violent


An independence movement in Catalonia escalated over the weekend. The region tried to hold a referendum on independence. The central government called the referendum illegal. Police tried to shut it down and clashed with voters at polling stations.


Now Catalan leaders say they're going to declare independence within days, and Lauren Frayer has been reporting from the Catalan capital of Barcelona.


INSKEEP: You know, from here, I'm hearing of minds actually changed by the violence over the weekend, people saying, you know, I wasn't for independence before, but now I am. Is that a widespread feeling where you are?

FRAYER: I think it is. I mean, voters I've talked to who may have been on the fence, undecided - 48 hours ago, it was quite easy to find people like that. Now it's very difficult. This violence, these scenes of police cracking down on people, on voters, seem to have really galvanized people here.

INSKEEP: What are some of the sounds you're hearing? What are some of the people you're talking to?

FRAYER: People are stunned. I mean, they're - it's kind of like shell shock. They're - in the metro this morning, it was sort of eerily quiet, people hunched over their cellphones watching these videos of riot police beating voters, dragging them by the hair, bloodied faces. Morning newspapers here, and frankly around the world, are a lot of variations on the same headline - "Verguenza" - shame. Here's one woman. She was on the street. I met her in tears. Her name is Neus Valls.

NEUS VALLS: I am just very sad, very sad to see that the national police and the Civil Guard...

FRAYER: And she sort of trails off fighting tears there, but she did manage to continue, and here's the thought that she managed to get out.

VALLS: I would say that psychologically a lot of the Catalan people, a big majority of the Catalan people, have already left the Spanish state.

FRAYER: So as you said, Catalan leaders propose a declaration of independence in the coming days. This woman says it's kind of done already in people's minds. A red line has been crossed.

INSKEEP: Lauren, will you help us understand what the underlying narrative is here? And now that's actually a really important thing in a situation like this. What is the claim of this region to a separate identity, an independent national identity, from Spain at large?

FRAYER: Catalans have their own language, their own culture, as do many regions of Spain, like the neighboring Basque country. The Catalan language and culture were repressed under a nearly 40-year dictatorship of Francisco Franco. That dictator only died in 1975, so anybody older than 40 remembers him and remembers that repression. There's also an economic argument. I mean, Catalonia since then has become Spain's richest region, and especially during the economic crisis, people here resented having their tax revenue subsidize poorer parts of Spain. They'd rather go it alone.

INSKEEP: And one other thing - is there a good sense of how the referendum turned out? Even though it was disrupted by police, is there any kind of legitimate result?

FRAYER: It's important to note that it was the separatists who run the regional government here who were doing the vote counting. So they're not unbiased outsiders. But around 2 a.m. this morning, they announced results - 90 percent in favor of independence, 8 percent opposed. Turnout was about 50 percent. It's impossible to know if these figures are real and accurate. What we don't know is that - whether half of the Catalans who did not vote, vote - didn't do that because they're opposed to independence, whether they were intimidated by the voilence, or whether they would have voted in a referendum that was legal. This one was not, under Spanish law.

INSKEEP: OK. Lauren, thanks very much for the update. Really appreciate it.

FRAYER: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Lauren Frayer in Barcelona. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.