General strike in Catalonia to protest referendum violence

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Barcelona (Spain), Oct 3 (IANS) Large numbers of Catalans on Tuesday observed a general strike to condemn police violence during a banned weekend referendum on independence, as Madrid comes under growing international pressure to resolve its worst political crisis in decades.

Protesters blocked major roads in Catalonia and there was little public transport. At least 24 protesters’ roadblocks were reported across Catalonia, causing big traffic jams. Barcelona port was at a standstill, union sources were quoted as saying by the BBC.

Many small businesses were shut for the day. Schools, universities and medical services were also closed or operating at a minimum level. The strike was called in protest against “the grave violation of rights and freedoms” during Sunday’s ballot which was declared illegal by the Madrid government.

Almost 900 people were hurt as Spanish police tried to prevent voting. Police officers were seen firing rubber bullets, storming into polling stations and pulling women by their hair.

Thirty three police officers were also injured in Sunday’s clashes, Catalan medical officials said. However, over 2.2 million people reportedly voted in spite of this.

The Catalan government said the vote in support of independence was nearly 90 per cent, but official results have not yet been released. Turnout was relatively low at a reported 42 per cent.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy held emergency talks after Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont declared on Sunday that Catalonia had “won the right to an independent state”.

Puigdemont said he wanted a new understanding with the central government in Madrid, but the Spanish government warned it could suspend the autonomy of the wealthy north-eastern region.

“An attack on democracy without precedent in recent times calls for a united response,” said Javier Pacheco, the secretary general in Catalonia of the Comisiones Obreras union. “We have called on all sectors to take part.”

Barcelona’s public universities were expected to join the strike, as was the contemporary art museum and the Sagrada Familia, the basilica designed by Antoni Gaudi and one of the city’s most popular tourist sites, the Guardian reported.

FC Barcelona said it would take part in the strike, adding that it would close its headquarters and that none of its professional or youth teams would train.

UN rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said he was “very disturbed” by the referendum unrest while EU president Donald Tusk urged Madrid to avoid further violence.

The European Parliament will hold a special debate on Wednesday on the issue.

–IANS

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