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"Everybody saw what happened, and this decision has made things a lot worse", he said, apparently referring to police intervention that, according to regional authorities, left more than 700 people injured. Experts say European Union officials are fearful that supporting it could open the door for many other independence campaigns across the continent.

FC Barcelona star Gerard Pique's tears of sadness and the vast empty stands as his team reluctantly played were two of the defining images of a violence-scarred independence referendum in Catalonia.

Pique said after on Sunday that if the national team considered him a nuisance, he would have no problem stepping aside.

- Thomas Moens (@TMoens) October 1, 2017Spain's National Police brutalize voters in Catalonia polling center (a school) today in an attempt to suppress #CatalanReferendum vote.

None of this should be really surprising: the vote was indeed illegal, and only supporters of independence came out to take part.

Catalans said they would walk off the job en masse Tuesday in a regionwide general strike to protest their predicament.

Puigdemont also called on Spain's national police reinforcements to leave the northeastern region.

The crackdown has elicited a muted response from Canada's federal government.

Despite the overwhelming referendum result and Puigdemont's claim that the region will declare independence, many market analysts do not expect the bid for independence to be successful.

Hundreds of people gathered in central Barcelona on Monday to protest against the police violence, chanting: "The streets will always be ours".

With 91 caps, Pique is one of Spain's most experienced footballers.

Las Palmas showed its opposition to a breakup of Spain as players took to the pitch with small Spanish flags sewn onto their jerseys. "They both opposed the decision to let the game go ahead".

The euro and the Spanish stock market slid on Monday after the vote, with bank shares hit particularly hard.

Catalan authorities said 2.26mn votes were cast, and with 95% of votes counted, about 90% backed independence. About 5,000 extra police officers were sent to Catalonia and are expected to remain there for now.

Clashes broke out at a number of voting locations after riot police turned up to prevent people from voting and to confiscate ballot boxes. If necessary, Spanish police could enforce the measures.

Catalonia's regional government declared a landslide win for the "yes" side in the vote and is considering whether to declare independence. But such a move could again lead to a violent confrontation.

European Council President Donald Tusk said he had spoken to Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and had "appealed to find ways to avoid further escalation and use of force".

"These are times for unity and stability", Schinas said.

The European Commission statement said "violence can never be an instrument in politics".

For its part, the Catalan regional government is now trying to seize the initiative by drafting a unilateral declaration of independence.

While the socialist leader urged Mr Rajoy to hold talks with the Catalan president immediately, Mr Rivera said Spain should invoke article 155 of the constitution, in effect suspending Catalonia's autonomous powers.