September 27, 2018 / 10:46 AM / 3 months ago

A village remembers Catalonia's ill-fated bid to leave Spain

SANT JULIA DE RAMIS, Spain (Reuters) - Oriol Costa looks at a ballot box in a glass case in his village in Catalonia, a reminder of last year’s banned Oct. 1 referendum on independence that plunged Spain into its worst political crisis in decades.

A placard of the square named after the banned October 1, 2017 referendum on independence is seen in front of a sports hall where skirmishes took place between voters and Spanish civil guards in Sant Julia de Ramis, Spain, September 20, 2018. REUTERS/Albert Gea

An inscription under the case reads “Never forget, never pardon”, a reference to the scenes of chaos that erupted across the region as riot police descended on polling stations to prevent the vote from going ahead.

“We never would have imagined such an extraordinary display of force,” says Costa, who went with his 4-year-old son to vote in the village of Sant Julia de Ramis where police smashed the glass door of the polling station and seized voting materials.

Video footage shows Costa, carrying his son huddled on his shoulders, outside the polling station as police in riot gear drag people from the building.

Their use of batons and rubber bullets sparked an international outcry yet Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria praised the actions of the police on the day.

Madrid and the courts barred the referendum citing Spain’s 1978 constitution, which states the country is indivisible.

Although both the Spanish prime minister and the leader of the Catalan government have been replaced, tensions remain.

Polls show Catalans favoring independence and those preferring to remain in Spain are more or less evenly split, both with less than a majority.

New Catalan leader Quim Torra has urged Spain’s Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez to allow an agreed referendum but Sanchez has firmly ruled out any such vote or any unilateral attempt by Catalonia to secede from Spain.

Pro-independence feelings run high one year on in the village where the square outside a municipal sports center where the polling station was has been renamed “October 1 Square”.

“People are upbeat, people are expectant,” said Pere Pujolras, who is seen in video footage singing the Catalan anthem after police broke into the polling station. “I have no doubt that we are on the right course.”

Writing by Sonya Dowsett; editing by Jason Neely

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