BARCELONA, Spain — Catalan separatists called for international mediation with the Spanish government as they pushed ahead Monday with plans to declare unilateral independence this week after a violent police crackdown scarred a disputed secession referendum.
The referendum debacle only deepened Spain’s most serious political crisis since democratic rule was restored in 1978. The violence on Sunday in the prosperous northeastern region left more than 890 civilians and 430 police injured when anti-riot squads moved into polling stations and dispersed voters.
Shocking videos and photos of police dragging people by the hair and kicking them were flashed around the globe, leading some European leaders to warn about any further escalation of violence.
Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont said a regional parliamentary commission would investigate why Spain’s anti-riot squads fired rubber bullets, smashed into polling stations and beat protesters with batons to disperse voters in the independence referendum that Spain opposed. He also urged the 5,000-strong contingent of special Spanish police forces deployed in Catalonia to leave immediately.
Puigdemont called Monday for the European Union “to stop looking the other way” and urged Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to accept international mediation in the crisis. He urged the EU to view Catalonia’s desire to break away from Spain as a Europe-wide issue.
“This is not a domestic issue. The need for mediation is evident,” Puigdemont said.
Calls for restraint came from across Europe, including EU chief Donald Tusk, who appealed to Rajoy to “avoid further escalation and use of force” while agreeing that the independence vote was invalid. Several human rights organizations called for an impartial investigation into the violence.
Of the 893 civilians injured in the melee, two suffered serious wounds, Catalan health authorities said. The Interior Ministry said 39 police received immediate medical treatment and 392 others had scrapes and bruises.
But Spanish authorities commended the police, saying their response to the voting was professional and proportionate. And Spain’s interior minister said the 5,000 extra officers deployed to Catalonia would stay as long as necessary.
“I don’t think there was such a heavy hand, but in any case, they had to react,” said Spanish Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis, calling the police reaction videos “a matter of interpretation.”
Speaking in Rome, Dastis said “some of the…