BARCELONA, Spain — They arrived with their sleeping bags late Saturday, regular Catalonians ready to defy judicial orders and occupy polling stations in and around Barcelona to ensure a referendum on Catalan independence would go ahead.

By Sunday night, nearly 2.3 million of the region’s 5.3 million voters had cast ballots. The hours in between were marked by striking scenes of police firing rubber bullets, smashing into polling stations and beating back protesters with batons.

Spanish officials, who said the referendum was illegal, defended their use of force, saying police acted professionally and their response was proportionate.

Hundreds of people were injured.

Catalonia, one of Spain’s 17 autonomous regions, has some 7.5 million people and includes Barcelona. The region has its own language and generates a fifth of Spain’s 1.1 trillion euro economy. Catalan officials say parliament will declare independence in the next several days. What happens then is unclear.

Here, AP photographers chronicle a chaotic 24 hours in Catalonia.

Author photo
The Associated Press
The AP is one of the largest and most trusted sources of independent newsgathering. AP is neither privately owned nor government-funded; instead, as a not-for-profit news cooperative owned by its American newspaper and broadcast members, it can maintain its single-minded focus on newsgathering and its commitment to the highest standards of objective, accurate journalism.