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Huge protests in Barcelona after Catalan referendum crackdown

Thousands angered by harsh treatment by police

BARCELONA (CNN) - The center of Barcelona was brought to a halt Tuesday as Catalans vented their anger at the violent crackdown by Spanish security forces of Sunday's disputed independence referendum.

Tens of thousands of people gathered in the city center, angered by the harsh treatment meted out by Spanish national police who tried to prevent the banned vote from taking place. Many demonstrated in front of the Barcelona headquarters of the Guardia Civil, the national security force.

Shops were closed, universities halted classes and transport companies ran reduced services as supporters of Catalonia's bid for independence from Spain attempted to maintain the momentum from Sunday's vote.

Facing Spain's biggest political crisis in decades, the Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy held talks with opposition parties in Madrid.

The main trade unions, the CCOO and UGT stopped short of declaring a general strike, describing the action instead as a "work stoppage" to skirt labor laws that forbid strikes for political reasons.

'The streets will always be ours'

The Catalan President Carles Puigdemont has called for international mediation to resolve the crisis.

Protesters gathering in Barcelona said they were motivated by fury at the violent crackdown. "This is a protest against police violence and maintaining momentum after Sunday," said Victor Noguer, 27, a fire fighter.

"The streets will always be ours," protesters chanted, some of them draped in the blue, yellow and red Estelada flag used by Catalan separatists.

Addressing thousands of people gathered in the Plaça de la Universitat square, Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau, condemned Rajoy's decision to deploy national security forces was "seriously irresponsible."

"Why is he throwing thousands of police officers against the population," asked Colau, who does not support Catalan independence but was in favor of the referendum being held. "Why is he keeping thousands of police officers on standby in the city of Barcelona and in Catalonia. What is the message of fear he wants to send?"

Officers from the Guardia Civil and the Catalan police force stood guard outside the local headquarters of the Spanish government in Barcelona, where hundreds of firefighters gathered. Other groups of protesters gathered outside the headquarters of the Guardia Civil, shouting "Spanish police get out!"

The presence of the Spanish national police and the civil guard police in Catalonia is a source of increasing tension in the city following Sunday's violence. Animosity is also rising between the forces themselves.

On Tuesday, the Guardia Civil police union, the AUGC, filed a complaint with the Catalan High Court against the Catalan police, or Mossos d'Esquadra, complaining that they failed in their duties by not enforcing the court ruling that banned the referendum.

The AUGC also filed a complaint in connection with the eviction of 200 officers from the Hotel Vila in the Calella district of Barcelona. It called for a judicial inquiry into reports the Mayor threatened to withdraw the hotel's license if the Guardia Civil remained there.

Spanish newspaper El Pais said two hotels in Barcelona and hotels in Reus, 100 kilometers from the city, have ordered Guardia Civil guests to leave following Sunday's referendum.

Spain's Interior Minister, Juan Ignacio Zoido, said Madrid would "take all necessary measures" to stop the "intolerable harassment" of national security forces.

The Catalan government says it earned the right to split from Spain, claiming 90% of those who voted in Sunday's poll were in favour of independence. But the result was not decisive: turnout was low, at around 42%.

The Catalan health ministry said 893 people were injured in the clashes Sunday as riot police raided polling stations, dragged away voters and fired rubber bullets.

Catalan authorities blamed the crackdown for the low turnout, but it remains clear that public opinion in Catalonia is deeply split on independence.

Catalan President Carles Puigdemont stopped short of declaring independence for Catalonia Monday. According to the referendum law passed by the Catalan Parliament -- and declared illegal by Spain's top court -- authorities have 48 hours after the result to declare a split. Catalan authorities have not yet presented a final result to the Parliament in Barcelona.

Spanish PM unrepentant

On Monday, an unrepentant Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy met Spanish opposition leaders to discuss the government's next moves.

A statement released Monday night by the Spanish government described Sunday's events as a "serious situation of institutional disobedience in this community."

It said that during his meetings the Prime Minister "has strongly defended the actions of the security forces during [Sunday's] events and has reiterated that more than 400 officers needed (medical) attention and 40 needed emergency attention because of their injuries."

Rajoy's office said Tuesday that he was considering calling a special session of Spain's Congress of Deputies to discuss the crisis.

So far, European Union leaders and the European Commission have backed the Spanish government's opinion that the referendum was illegal.

The European Parliament, the EU's only elected body, will discuss the crists on Wednesday. The issue Catalan cause is likely to find more sympathizers, especially from the smaller nations.

The UN Commissioner for Human Rights has asked to be allowed to send in experts to examine if citizens' rights have been violated.


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