Rutte calls for ‘dialogue’ in Catalonia but stops short of condemning violence

A voter with a ballot paper in Catalonia. Photo: Manu Fernandez/AP

Prime minister Mark Rutte has urged Spanish and Catalonian authorities to resolve the constitutional crisis in the region through dialogue.

Rutte said the Spanish government was legally in the right in taking action to stop the vote, which has been ruled illegal by the country’s constitutional court. ‘But at the same time the images we have seen are very serious, so I call on all parties to try to calm the situation through dialogue.’

More than 900 people were injured as riot police fired rubber bullets into crowds of protesters and raided polling stations throughout Sunday, seizing ballot boxes. The scenes of violence were condemned by Belgian prime minister Charles Michel, who tweeted: ‘Violence can never be the answer!’

Most EU leaders, including Rutte, stopped short of condemning the actions of the Spanish police outright, instead stressing the need for a negotiated solution.

D66 leader Alexander Pechtold said Brussels should take a more active role in the dispute. ‘Violence within Europe is never the answer. I think the European Union should maybe find a way to mediate, because the pictures are appalling.’

Catalonia’s government said that around 90% of votes counted were for independence, on a turnout of around 42%.

Daan Everts, a former Dutch diplomat who headed an international team of election observers, said there was an ‘absence of mutual trust and respect.’

‘These are scenes you hope not to see in Europe’, he told the Financieel Dagblad. ‘The use of violence is counter-productive and leads to further escalation and polarisation.’