Nearly 500 people were injured Sunday as Spanish security forces attempted to shut down a referendum vote on the future of the northeastern Spanish province of Spain.
Catalonia, a semi-autonomous province with its own official language, held the controversial vote Sunday on whether to remain a part of the Kingdom of Spain, or to seek independence.
Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, who supports a Catalan separation from Spain, said earlier that if the referendum saw a majority of “yes” votes, he would declare an independent Catalonia within 48 hours.
While polls show some 60% of locals oppose independence from Spain, a wide majority back the plebiscite.
The Spanish government, however, has declared the referendum illegal and ordered security forces to bar voters from entering polling stations.
“There has not been a referendum or anything remotely similar,” Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría said.
In polling places across Catalonia, including the local capital, Barcelona, police clashed with crowds of voters as they attempted to enter voting stations.
During the clashes, officers opened fire with rubber bullets, hitting dozens of protesters.
According to The Independent, local firefighters formed human shields around voters to protect voters from police.
At least 465 people were injured by the late afternoon, including a dozen officers.
Catalan officials say police managed to shut down 319 voting stations across Catalonia.
“What the police are doing is a real scandal, a savagery,” said Catalan spokesperson Jordi Turull.
“The Spanish state is in a very difficult situation before the world... What the police is doing is truly an international embarrassment.”