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French press review 2 October 2017

There appear to have been no winners in yesterday's disputed referendum on independence for the Spanish region of Catalonia. But hundreds of people got hurt in clashes with the police. There's to be a general strike tomorrow. And police investigators say the man who killed two women in Marseille yesterday had just been released from police custody.


Le Monde's internet edition says supporters of Catalan independence won yesterday's referendum, despite police violence. The authorities in Madrid say there was no referendum.

According to the organisers of yesterday's poll, 90 percent of those who voted were in favour of independence for the north-eastern region centred on Barcelona. Forty-two percent of Catalonia's five million electors are said to have cast a vote in the referendum.

The Spanish government had banned the ballot, and sent police reinforcements to close polling stations and confiscate election materials. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy yesterday congratulated the security forces for their efforts to protect the state by preventing the vote. Over 100 people were hospitalised following clashes with the police. Eight hundred and forty-four were injured in the course of the day.

Separatist supporters have described the police action as "an international and eternal disgrace," saying that the way is now open to a unilateral declaration of independence for the region.

The Spanish prime minister insists that yesterday's vote has no legal status. He points out that a majority of Catalans did not cast a ballot and says Madrid remains open to discussions within the law.

Gulf deepens between Barcelona and Madrid

Le Figaro's main headline says yesterday's violence has further deepened the gulf separating Madrid from Catalonia.

The right-wing daily says the disputed vote did, indeed, go ahead, but with a dubious level of credibility.

Voting papers were left open, not sealed in envelopes as required by Spanish law; the official registers were ignored with Catalans allowed to vote in any polling station; the ballots were collected in plastic bins bought from a hardware wholesaler, not in transparent, sealed boxes. There was no supervising electoral commission. Many polling stations were staffed by volunteers.

Several anti-independence activists claim that they were allowed vote several times in different polling centres.

Le Figaro feels that the day ended in defeat for both sides.

Madrid was not able to stop the referendum; the Catalan authorities were not able to run the vote properly. A lot of people got hurt.

In the light of the violence, Mariano Rajoy's offer of dialogue is likely to fall on deaf ears. Forty political and trade union groups last night called for a general strike in Catalonia, starting tomorrow, in protest at the heavy-handedness of the Madrid government.

Spain faces a long period of dissent and division

Left-leaning Libération laments a clash in Catalonia between the baton and the ballot paper, saying a day of extreme repression by the police has left Spain facing a long future of deep division.

Libé also wonders why Europe remained so silent on an issue likely to affect us all, with only the Belgian prime minister, Charles Michel, speaking out to deplore the police violence against un-armed and inoffensive civilian voters.

The Madrid-based national daily El Païs was not exaggerating when it described this as the biggest challenge facing Spain since the death of Franco in 1975.

Marseille murderer just out of police custody

On other pages, Libération reports the tragic news that the man who stabbed two women to death in the southern city of Marseille before himself being killed by security personnel yesterday had been in police custody just hours before the double murder.

The 30-year-old, whose nationality and identity remain unknown, was arrested for shop-lifting and held in custody in Lyon on Saturday. But the police decided to let him go because the charges against him were so slight. He did not have a residence permit. He was well known to the authorities as a petty thief in the area around Lyon.

That information casts serious doubt on the subsequent claim by the Islamic State terrorist organisation that the Marseille attack had been carried out by one of their activists. The investigation continues.

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