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Spanish National Police tries to dislodge pro-referendum supporters sitting down on a street in Barcelona. (AP)

In pictures: Catalan referendum protests turn violent as riot police attack voters

The Catalan independence referendum turned ugly over the weekend as protests descended into mayhem.

More than 800 people were injured on Sunday as riot police attacked peaceful protesters and unarmed civilians gathered to cast their ballots.

Clashes broke out less than an hour after polls opened, and hundreds of police armed with truncheons and rubber bullets were sent in from other regions to confiscate ballots and stop the voting.

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Amateur video showed some officers dragging people out of polling stations by the hair, throwing some down stairs, kicking them and pushing them to the ground.

Police were acting on a judge’s orders to stop the referendum, which the Spanish government had declared illegal and unconstitutional – and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said going forward with the vote only served to sow divisions.

After the polls closed, Catalan president Carles Puigdemont said Catalonia had “won the right to become an independent state”.