MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Now we go to Catalonia in northeast Spain, where nearly a thousand people have been injured today. This after police have raided polling stations, where activists were trying to hold an independence referendum. The Spanish central government calls the vote illegal and ordered it blocked. Lauren Frayer is at a polling station in the Catalan capital, Barcelona. Lauren, thanks so much for speaking with us.
LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: You're welcome. Thanks for having me.
MARTIN: So what have you seen there and on the streets of Barcelona today?
FRAYER: We have seen scenes that we're frankly not used to seeing in Europe - police dragging voters away from polling stations by the hair, throwing them down stairs outside, elderly people bloodied, tear gas being used on civilians, raids on schools where parents and teachers were camped out overnight. There's also been a fight between rival police agencies here - Catalan regional officers, who have, for the most part, not cracked down on their fellow Catalans despite orders to do so from the central government.
And then on the other side, national police and civil guards, who've been shipped in from all over the country. Officers literally came to blows outside one polling station. Spain says this is justified, that its officers have been attacked, too. A dozen of them have been hurt. The deputy prime minister came out in Madrid today, and she reiterated the government position that this referendum is illegal and anti-democratic.
MARTIN: So despite all this, has anybody managed to vote today?
FRAYER: They certainly have. Only about 90 polling stations out of more than 2,300 across the region were shut down completely by police. So the vast majority have managed to stay open and receive voters. I'm at one right now, and there are maybe a thousand people still lining up to vote. Voters and volunteers at this polling station have linked arms across the front of the polling station to block police. And they sort of let you in one by one into the building. Here's what it sounded like for pretty much constantly all day today.
FRAYER: What you hear there is the crowd applauding people as they come out from voting, especially elderly people who have lived through other really tumultuous times in Spain's history. Here's Jorge Gonzales (ph). He's 72, and he remembers quite well the 40-year dictatorship of Francisco Franco.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
JORGE GONZALES: (Speaking Spanish).
FRAYER: You can hear there he was actually weeping as he spoke. He says, I'm sorry, you've caught me in an emotional moment. He had just cast his ballot. Jorge says he experienced all the repressions that a person could have lived through under the Franco years. Until Franco's death in 1975, the Catalan language and culture were repressed. And Jorge says the scenes across Catalonia today remind him of those years.
MARTIN: So what is the posture of the U.S. and other governments in Western Europe toward this? I mean, we've seen some expressions of concern about the level of violence. What are they saying about this?
FRAYER: Well, the Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, traveled to Washington this past week and got the assurances he had hoped for from President Trump that the U.S. would not recognize an independent Catalonia. In fact, no country has said it would do so. The European Union, of which Spain is a member, has treated this really as an internal matter for Spain. But there is a sense here that it's really crossed the line now and that the European Union must intervene or mediate.
MARTIN: So what happens now? Are these votes going to be counted at some point? And what happens now that people have lived through this day of really intense violence in some places?
FRAYER: It's not over yet. Police have vowed to disrupt vote counting just like they disrupted the voting itself. Ballot boxes at this polling station where I am had to be smuggled in this morning in black garbage bags. Turnout is key.
It's important to remember that while these scenes of violence draw lots of sympathy for Catalans, Catalans themselves are divided over this referendum. Anti-independence parties are vocal, and they sat out this vote. They boycotted it. That could mean that a minority of the Catalan population actually decides this. And it's unclear whether these scenes of violence have encouraged more voters to come out or scared them away. You can hear the crowds behind me cheering right now.
MARTIN: That is Lauren Frayer at a polling station in the Catalan capital of Barcelona. Lauren, thank you.
FRAYER: You're welcome.
(SOUNDBITE OF RENE AUBRY'S "LA GRANDE CASCADE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.