Hundreds of thousands filled the streets of Barcelona as a general strike was called Oct. 3 to protest "grave violation of rights and freedoms" by Spanish security forces during the vote on independence for Catalonia two days earlier—when close to a thousand people were injured as Civil Guard troops dispatched by Madrid used rubber bullets and tear-gas in an attempt to prevent the poll from taking place. The strike was widely honored; the city's port was shut down, and Barcelona's metro lines cut to a 25% service during rush hour and no trains at all at other times. Street traffic was snarled by barricades erected by protesters on major arteries, with hand-painted banners reading "Occupation forces get out!"
Carles Puigdemont, leader of the Catalan regional government, announced after the vote that the autonomous region had "won the right to an independent state in the form of a republic." But the president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, stated that "yesterday's vote in Catalonia was not legal," and that this is an "internal matter for Spain that has to be dealt with in line with the constitutional order of Spain."
The vote, which drew a turnout of 42.3% of registered voters, went in favor of independence by 90%. Puigdemont has called for international mediation to help resolve the conflict, stating that Catalans "don't want a traumatic break… We want a new understanding with the Spanish state."
But Spanish Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido remained intransigent, saying: "We see how day after day the government of Catalonia is pushing the population to the abyss and inciting rebellion in the streets." In a rare televised statement, King Felipe said the referendum's organizers had jeopardized national stability. "With their decisions, they have systematically undermined the rules approved legally and legitimately, showing an unacceptable disloyalty towards the powers of the state."
Civil Guard troops mobilized to Catalonia before the vote had been cheered along the way by crowds of right-wing Spanish nationalists waving the national flag and chanting provocatively, "Viva Franco!" The Civil Guard union, the AUCG, called on Madrid to send more reinforcements to Catalonia. "Right now Catalonia is like the Basque Country in 1981," it said in a blistering statement, asserting that the Civil Guard had been "abandoned to their luck" by government "inaction" and "betrayed" by the "disloyal" Catalan police force, the Mossos d'Esquadra.
1981 was the most violent year in the struggle against armed Basque separatists, and also saw the first major crisis in post-dictatorship Spain, with an attempted coup by members of the army and Civil Guard. (BBC News, Jurist; VOA, CNN, The Telegraph, Viento Sur)