Members of the Catalan police force were visibly moved to tears as they guarded local protesters in the town of Vielha amid scenes of violence during the referendum for independence from Spain.
At least 460 people have been injured while members of the Civil Guard and Spanish military police forcibly stopped people from voting in the referendum by firing rubber bullets and using batons, the Independent reports.
Violence broke out as people went to vote in the disputed landmark referendum to decide whether Catalonia should leave mainland Spain, a historical feud which has resulted in high tensions.
Catalan police defend people in Vielha, one of the agents crying pic.twitter.com/iM79SoPFCe
— Help Catalonia (@CataloniaHelp2) October 1, 2017
Despite orders coming from Madrid to stop people voting, members of the Mossos (local autonomous Catalan police) decided to protect its citizens from the violence.
Moving video footage shows people cheering behind a line of officers, and two of the men crying.
The Catalan President Carles Puigdemont has accused Spanish authorities of using ‘unjustified, disproportionate and irresponsible’ violence.
— Pablo Iglesias (@Pablo_Iglesias_) October 1, 2017
Spanish deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saens de Santamaria said the police were following the orders of the Constitutional Court in Madrid, which declared the referendum illegal.
The fight for Catalan independence has been raging for generations. A call for a referendum has grown stronger in the past five years due to the country’s brutal recession.
With Catalonia being a fairly wealthy region of Spain and home to 16 per cent of the population yet generating 19 per cent of its GDP, it has begun to push back on economically supporting other regions.
The last time Catalonia tried to revolt and establish itself as an autonomous nation was at the end of the Spanish Civil War in 1939, but it was suppressed.