‘It’s a high price that all Spanish people have to pay thanks to the pro-independence government that was running Catalonia’
Spain’s Interior Minister has revealed that the special deployment of thousands of Civil Guards and state police in Catalonia last autumn to stop a banned referendum on independence ultimately cost the state €87m (£76.6m).
Juan Ignacio Zoido strongly defended the police operations around the 1 October vote, which did not subside fully until the last withdrawal of extra police patrols three months later.
The clashes during the referendum saw hundreds of would-be voters reporting injuries and police actions were criticised around the world. But the minister said their response at the time was “legitimate, proportional and professional”.
“They used the least force possible,” Mr Zoido told a Spanish parliamentary committee on Thursday. He said he regretted the injuries, “which never should happen” when police attempted to close down polling stations during what he called “perfectly organized passive resistance”.
He claimed, too, that some groups on 1 October had been “organized by radicals, to stop the security forces from getting inside the polling stations. They weren’t just there to vote.” He did admit, however, that “not all” those voting were “radicals”.
Human Rights Watch, the US-based rights organization, said it believed the police and Civil Guards in the banned referendum had been “marred by excessive use of force”, something it reiterated in its annual report presented in Paris on Thursday.
In one polling station in Barcelona, witnesses said police used axes to break down doors, fired rubber bullets, one of which hit a voter in the eye and charged the crowds outside. Mr Zoido said yesterday rubber bullets had only been fired on one occasion during the referendum to enable police to withdraw when faced by a hostile crowd.
Mr Zoido was criticised during his appearance in parliament by almost all opposition parties, with a Socialist Party spokesman saying “there was too much improvisation and not enough forward planning” on the part of the Spanish authorities at the time.
The Spanish government revealed that a maximum of 6,000 state police and Civil Guards had been sent into Catalonia, although on any given day the during the three months of deployment the police numbers averaged 4,500.
The last of the special deployment left Catalonia on 30 December, nine days after regional elections saw the Nationalists return to power with a narrow majority.
Mr Zoido laid the blame for the expense of the police operation squarely at the door of the Nationalists, saying: “It’s a high price that all Spanish people have to pay thanks to the pro-independence government that was running Catalonia.”
He also fiercely criticised the local Catalan police for what he called “inaction” despite their attending various police meetings “with big ring binders full of papers outlining what they were going to do” to stop the referendum, plans they apparently then failed to execute.