Spain's Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, said people in Catalonia were misled into voting in a illegal referendum Sunday and implied that the region's independence movement was a "path that leads to nowhere."
"There was no referendum today," Rajoy insisted during a televised addressed to the nation after a day of shocking violence in the northeast region of Catalonia that saw hundreds injured by riot police, who fired rubber bullets on protesters in the capital of Barcelona, during a vote the federal government has declared illegal.
"The responsibility for these acts solely and exclusively falls on those who promoted the rupture of legality and coexistence," Rajoy said "The vast majority of the people of Catalonia did not want to participate in the secessionists' script."
Rajoy added that the vote was a "real attack on the rule of law ... to which the state reacted with firmness and serenity."
However, it was Rajoy who found himself facing international accusations of lawlessness, with both the Prime Minister of Belgium, Charles Michel, condemning the violence and Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn pressing U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May to intervene.
Police violence against citizens in #Catalonia is shocking. The Spanish government must act to end it now.— Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) October 1, 2017
I urge @Theresa_May to appeal directly to Rajoy to end police violence in Catalonia & find political solution to this constitutional crisis.— Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) October 1, 2017
Catalan officials have said nearly 800 people were injured over the course of the day, which Spanish police, under orders from the government of Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, seizing ballot papers, closing public buildings used as polling station and attempting to quell protests in Barcelona and elsewhere in their effort to prevent the referendum from taking place.
While the referendum is non-binding, it could establish a stronger popular movement towards Catalan independence from Madrid under the leadership of President Carles Puigdemont.
Spain's Constitutional Court has declared the vote illegal and allowed the government, under terms of an agreement arranged in 1978, to suspend Catalonia's regional government and assume control if it declares independence.
Catalonia independence movement has long fought for separation from Madrid, but its support has grown since the country's debt and banking sector crisis in 2012 and the strict fiscal austerity that followed.
Many in the region, Spain's richest, feel that it has shouldered and unfair burden in paying for a crisis that emanated from the banking sector in the Spanish capital, not in the industrial region in the northeast.
Furthermore, despite the fact that Catalonia contributes the lion's share of tax revenues collected by Madrid from the country's seventeen autonomous regions, it doesn't have the same powers of taxation enjoyed by its neighbors in Navarre and the Basque region.
That said, while a previous non-binding independence referendum three years ago was supported by 80% of those who voted, less than a third of Catalans bothered to turn up.
And it's easy to see why: the Bank of Spain said Friday that the country's debt level reached E1.138 trillion ($1.34 trillion) in the second quarter, a figure that's 100% of the GDP in Europe's fifth largest economy.
Thankfully for Rajoy, that economy has expanded for sixteen straight quarters and should grow at a 3.1% clip this year, a tally that would well outpace Eurozone partners France, Germany and Italy.
Spain's IBEX index, which benchmark's the country's 35 biggest stocks, is also hot and has gained more than 10.3% so far this year - 24% when adjusted into U.S dollar returns.
Putting that performance at risk, either via a violent clash with independence advocates that scares away new foreign investment if he tries to stop the vote or risking the potential loss of his most important region if he doesn't, is something Rajoy simply can't allow if he wants to keep his unpopular government in power.
"What is striking is how this chaos in Catalonia has been largely ignored to date by global investors, who last week appeared more preoccupied with Trump's proposed tax cuts and Angela Merkel's reduced political strength in the Reichstag," said deVere Group CEO Nigel Green. "When global markets open Monday immediate reaction is likely to be muted too."
"However, what happens next will be crucial for global investors. Neither Barcelona nor Madrid will back down on this issue," he added. "And now the genie of illegality is out of the bottle, there is little incentive for those supporting independence to put it back. Particularly if they can claim a majority of voters back their cause."