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Spanish King addresses nation as Catalonia observes strike

Thousands of people demonstrate  in downtown Barcelona, northeastern Spain, to protest against the police actions during a general strike in Catalonia  - EPA

Thousands of people demonstrate in downtown Barcelona, northeastern Spain, to protest against the police actions during a general strike in Catalonia - EPA

04/10/2017 07:27

(Vatican Radio) Spain's King Felipe VI said on Tuesday he was committed to the unity of Spain as he accused Catalan leaders, who staged a banned independence referendum on Sunday, of shattering democratic principles and of dividing Catalan society.

In a televised address to the nation, the king said the "irresponsible behaviour" of the Catalan leaders had undermined social harmony in Catalonia. HE added, "today Catalan society is fractured and in conflict." 

Meanwhile, thousands of people have rallied in Barcelona and much more participated in strikes across Spain's most powerful and prosperous region of Catalonia to protest against police violence during this weekend's banned referendum on independence. Political tensions are rising following Sunday's poll in which a majority of those participating in it voted to break away from Spain.     

Listen to Stefan Bos' report :

Protesters were seen blocking roads and public transport slowed to a crawl. Even the famed FC Barcelona football club refused to train on Tuesday as Catalonia observed a general strike over police violence during the independence referendum.  

In Barcelona, top tourist attractions have been closed, including the city's famous Sagrada Familia church. Barcelona's massive wholesale market has been left deserted as some 770 food businesses have closed for the day.

Pro-independence Catalans also gathered outside the central government ruling conservative Popular Party headquarters in Barcelona. They expressed outrage over what protesters view as "grave violation of rights and freedoms". 

Footage emerged showing riot police violently removing voters. Some police officers could be seen firing rubber bullets, storming into polling stations and pulling women by their hair.

MANY INJURED 

Some 900 people were reportedly injured including at least 33 police officers. 

A woman, who was among those witnessing the clashes, said: "I saw how people bled, were getting punched. I saw how my father was pulled up and dragged away, how my dance teacher received punches and received headbutts. They threatened to break our fingers if we didn't come down from a fence. I have reached a point where I can't remove these images from my head. Nobody can make me forget them." 
 
Another woman agreed to say: "I know so many people that are not pro-independence, but they came out on the streets because they were ae outraged. She adds that this is a violence of human rights it is a disgrace."    

But Spain's Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis has defended Sunday's police actions as the constitutional court, and the government had deemed the vote illegal. "What every force they gave used was forced on them because they were prevented from discharging the duty that had been ordered by the courts, by the judges. I think the Spanish government was defending the rights of the Catalans to remain Catalans and Spanish and not to be forced to abandon their Spanish citizenship," he said.    

Catalonia's authorities and political parties are studying a possible declaration of independence after claiming 92 percent of voters supported the breakaway. But only 2.3 million of the 5.4 million eligible voters took part. That underscores deep divisions on the issue.  

However, many Catalans reportedly feel they could do better on their own, in part because Catalonia contributes a whopping fifth of Spain's 1.1 trillion-euro economy.

04/10/2017 07:27