Barcelona, Spain | AFP |Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont said Sunday the northeastern Spanish region he governs had "won the right to an independent state" after "millions" turned out to vote in a banned independence referendum.
"With this day of hope and suffering, the citizens of Catalonia have won the right to an independent state in the form a republic," he said in a televised announcement.
He called on the EU to stop looking "the other way" following a police crackdown on the referendum banned by Madrid, calling it "unjustified, abusive and serious police violence dictated by the Spanish government."
Riot police moved in on polling stations in Barcelona and other towns and cities in the Catalan region as people tried to vote, in some cases baton-charging and firing rubber bullets to disperse crowds.
Madrid had warned Catalan separatist leaders they could not hold the vote in a region deeply divided over independence, stating it was illegal and courts had ruled it unconstitutional.
But they had retorted that Catalans had a right to decide on their future and pressed ahead anyway.
Videos posted on social media showed police dragging voters from polling stations by their hair, throwing people down stairs and attacking Catalan firefighters who were protecting polling stations.
More than 800 people received medical attention as a result of the crackdown, according to regional authorities.
"The Spanish government has today written a shameful page in its history with Catalonia. Sadly it is not the first. Too often repression and violence have been the state's response to Catalan aspirations," Puigdemont said.
"I have to call directly on Europe," he added. "The European Union can no longer continue to look the other way."
"The situation that has been generated in Catalonia by intransigence and repression, by the absolute denial of reality, by hostility to the democratic demands of the citizens of our country, is no longer an internal matter.
"It is a matter of European interest, which appeals directly to the foundational values in the area of peace, freedom, coexistence and democracy that we have been building for decades and with very different accents," he added.
Earlier, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said that the rule of law had prevailed in Catalonia.
"Today there has not been a self-determination referendum in Catalonia," he added.