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Art Institutions Join Thousands Striking over Catalonia Referendum Violence

Following violent clashes that took place between Spanish police and Catalans on Sunday when authorities attempted to shut down an illegal succession referendum, arts and cultural organizations across Barcelona participated in a general strike yesterday, which brought Catalonia to a grinding halt.

Al Jazeera reports that Tuesday’s protest was initiated after several Catalan trade unions called for workers in the northeastern corner of Spain to strike in order to condemn the police brutality that occurred when officers began forcibly removing people from polling stations last Sunday. Witnesses reported that authorities were grabbing women by their hair, dragging people, and shooting rubber bullets into crowds. According to Catalonia government officials, around nine hundred were injured.

Due to the strike, fifty roads had been blocked by people rallying, which brought transportation services to a standstill. Many businesses across Catalonia closed their doors and medical centers and schools in the region were shut down or were operating at a minimal level.

The Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art, the Joan Miró Foundation, and the Center for Contemporary Culture of Barcelona are among the cultural institutions that joined the strike and denounced the use of excessive force by police.

In a statement on Twitter, the foundation said, “The management and the staff of the Fundació Joan Miró join the general strike called for Tuesday, October 3, in response to the serious violations of rights and freedoms during the referendum of October 1. The Fundació Joan Miró will remain closed all day.” Staff of the CCCB also called the weekend’s events “a serious attack on rights and liberties.” In addition, the venue hosted a conversation with writer and activist Arundhati Roy, which following the referendum, it billed as a debate about revolution.

While the Catalan government announced that 90 percent of 2.3 million people who cast their ballots voted for independence, the referendum’s tallies could not be independently verified, according to a report by Raphael Minder for the New York Times. In addition, Spain had ordered that the referendum be suspended on the grounds that it was unconstitutional.

In an interview with the BBC, Catalonia’s president Carles Puigdemont said that the region’s independence was imminent. He declared that his government would “act at the end of this week or the beginning of next.” He is due to make another statement addressing the situation today.

Meanwhile, Spain’s King Felipe VI denounced the vote and said that Catalans were acting above the law. Prime minister Mariano Rajoy at first denied that a vote took place, then he called it “illegal.” He also praised the Spanish police for defending the law.

If the standoff between the Catalan and Spanish governments continues, many people are afraid that Rajoy will complicate matters further by invoking article 155 of the Spanish constitution, which states that the Spanish government can step in and take control of an autonomous region if it “does not fulfill; the obligations imposed upon it by the constitution or other laws, or acts in a way that is seriously prejudicial to the general interest of Spain.” The article has never been enforced before.

The European Union’s response thus far has been to view the controversy as an internal problem for Spain. “Violence can never be an instrument in politics,” the European commission said in a statement on Monday. “We trust the leadership of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to manage this difficult process in full respect of the Spanish constitution and of the fundamental rights of citizens enshrined therein.”