Venezuela blasts Spain's Rajoy over 'repression' in Catalonia

Spanish police scuffle with a man outside a polling station for the banned independence referendum in Tarragona, Spain, October 1, 2017. REUTERS/David Gonzalez

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Sunday slammed his Spanish counterpart Mariano Rajoy for trying to halt a banned independence referendum in Catalonia, saying the conservative leader was a hypocrite for supporting Venezuela’s opposition while cracking down on dissent at home. Spain has been a vocal critic of leftist Maduro, accusing him of undermining Venezuela’s democracy and plunging the country’s 30 million people into suffering due to food and medicine shortages. Maduro seized on the images of Spanish riot police bursting into polling stations across Catalonia on Sunday, confiscating ballot boxes and voting papers, as evidence that it is Rajoy who lacks democratic credentials.

Spanish riot police burst into polling stations across Catalonia on Sunday, seizing ballot boxes and voting papers to prevent a banned referendum on a split from Spain. Some 761 people were injured in clashes with riot police, the regional government said. “Who is the dictator?” said Maduro at the start of his hours-long Sunday television show. “Mariano Rajoy has chosen blood, sticks, blows, and repression against a noble people. Our hand goes out to the people of Catalonia. Resist, Catalonia! Latin America admires you,” added Maduro.

Venezuela’s opposition, in turn, accused Maduro of hypocrisy in attacking Rajoy, saying the Venezuelan leader violently clamped down on four months of protests demanding humanitarian aid, early elections, and respect for the opposition-led Congress.

Reporting by Corina Pons; Writing by Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Sandra Maler