BARCELONA: Several hundred thousand Catalans rallied on Tuesday in fury at police violence against voters during a banned independence referendum, as Madrid accused regional authorities of "inciting rebellion".
Crowds yelled for national security forces to get out of the region, branding them "occupation forces", as the national government's standoff with the region dragged Spain deeper into its worst political crisis since emerging from dictatorship in 1977.
Demonstrators including students and young families filled the streets in the regional capital Barcelona waving red-and yellow-striped Catalan flags. An accompanying strike, officials said, slowed down public transport and freight shipments in the port of Barcelona.
Violence erupts as Catalans vote on split from Spain
Pictures of police beating unarmed Catalan voters with batons and dragging some by the hair during Sunday's ballots also drew international criticism. European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas warned on Monday that "violence can never be an instrument in politics".
But tensions rose further overnight as Catalans defied the Spanish government's vows to keep Catalonia as one of Spain's regions. "On October 1 we became an occupied country, and they still have not left," said one protester in Barcelona.
Protesters besieged Catalan hotels where state security forces were lodged, police groups said. "They are fleeing from hotel to hotel, they are like rats who have to hide," said the spokesman for Spain's main police union SUP, Ramon Cosio. He warned the state was losing control of security.
Spain's national government and courts have ruled the independence referendum illegal and Madrid blames the Catalan regional authorities for the tensions.
"We see how day after day the government of Catalonia is pushing the population to the abyss and inciting rebellion in the streets," Spain's Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido said on Tuesday. He said his government would take "all measures necessary to stop acts of harassment".
Madrid vows to stop Catalan independence declaration
Claims for independence for Catalonia date back centuries but have surged during recent years of economic crisis. A rich industrial region of 7.5 million people that accounts for a fifth of Spain's economy, it has its own language and cultural traditions.
Catalan regional leader Carles Puigdemont said nearly 900 people had received medical attention on Sunday, though regional authorities confirmed a total of 92 injured. Four were hospitalised, two in serious condition.
Schools and some businesses shut down during on Tuesday's strike. Protesters stood on roads and highways across Catalonia, blocking traffic. On the highway linking Barcelona to France two youths set up a folding table and played chess. Tourist sites like the city's Sagrada Familia Church were closed.
The government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy held emergency talks after Puigdemont declared on Sunday that Catalonia had "won the right to an independent state". Puigdemont has appealed for international mediation to help solve the crisis.
The regional government said 2.26 million people took part in the poll, or just over 42 per cent of the electorate. Puigdemont said he will present the results to the region's parliament, where separatist lawmakers hold a majority, and which has the power to adopt a motion to declare independence.
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