Catalonia independence referendum: What just happened?

Published 7:46 AM EDT, Mon October 2, 2017
BARCELONA, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 28:  Students get caught in an air vent as they gather to demonstrate against the position of the Spanish government to ban the self-determination referendum of Catalonia during a strike by university students on September 28, 2017 in Barcelona, Spain. The Catalan government is keeping with its plan to hold a referendum, due to take place on October 1, which has been deemed illegal by the Spanish government in Madrid.  (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
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BARCELONA, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 28: Students get caught in an air vent as they gather to demonstrate against the position of the Spanish government to ban the self-determination referendum of Catalonia during a strike by university students on September 28, 2017 in Barcelona, Spain. The Catalan government is keeping with its plan to hold a referendum, due to take place on October 1, which has been deemed illegal by the Spanish government in Madrid. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
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People wave 'Esteladas' (pro-independence Catalan flags) as they gather during a pro-independence demonstration, on September 11, 2017 in Barcelona during the National Day of Catalonia, the "Diada." Hundreds of thousands of Catalans were expected to rally to demand their region break away from Spain, in a show of strength three weeks ahead of a secession referendum banned by Madrid. The protest coincides with Catalonia's national day, the "Diada," which commemorates the fall of Barcelona in the War of the Spanish Succession in 1714 and the region's subsequent loss of institutions and freedoms. / AFP PHOTO / PAU BARRENA (Photo credit should read PAU BARRENA/AFP/Getty Images)
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(CNN) —  

Spain is facing political turmoil this week following a contested independence referendum in the region of Catalonia, which descended into violence and left hundreds injured.

Here’s what you need to know.

What happened?

More than 2.25 million people turned out to Sunday’s referendum across Catalonia, a region in the northeast of Spain. The regional government said 90% of voters were in favor of a split from Madrid.

But the turnout was low – around 42% of the voter roll. Catalan authorities blamed the figure on the crackdown on the vote initiated by the national government.

Spain’s highest court had ruled the vote illegal under the Spanish constitution. Citing the judicial authority, Madrid flooded Catalonia with thousands of national police in advance of the vote. Officers seized millions of ballot papers and sealed schools and other buildings to be used as polling stations.

On Sunday, the day of the disputed vote, national police launched a concerted effort to prevent people from casting their ballots. Police fired rubber bullets at protesters and voters trying to take part in the referendum, and used batons to beat them back.

People help a man injured by a rubber bullet fired by Spanish police officers outside the Ramon Llull polling station in Barcelona.
FABIO BUCCIARELLI/AFP/Getty Images
People help a man injured by a rubber bullet fired by Spanish police officers outside the Ramon Llull polling station in Barcelona.

Police smashed their way into polling stations, and were seen pulling voters out by the hair and restraining elderly people.

The scenes shocked Catalans and reverberated around Europe.

Almost 900 people were injured, Catalan officials said. Opposition parties criticized Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy for taking a heavy-handed approach to blocking the vote.

Why did it happen?

The long-running dispute goes back to the brutal years under Franco, whose dictatorial regime repressed Catalonia’s earlier limited autonomy. In 1979, four years after his death, the region was granted greater autonomy.

In 2006, the Spanish government backed Catalonia’s calls for even greater powers and financial control of the region, granting it “nation” status.