BARCELONA (Reuters) – Spanish riot police smashed their way into a polling station in Catalonia on Sunday as they sought to shut down a banned independence referendum and there were reports of officers firing rubber bullets in the regional capital Barcelona.

Catalan emergency services said 38 people were hurt, mostly with minor injuries, as a result of police action.

Police burst into the polling station in a town in Girona province minutes before Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont was due to vote there. They smashed glass panels to force open the door as voters, fists in the air, sang the Catalan anthem.

Police also fired rubber bullets in central Barcelona, El Periodico newspaper reported, at the intersection of two streets as violence erupted during the vote which has thrown Spain into its worst constitutional crisis for decades.

Officers with riot shields jostled with hundreds of voters outside one station at a school in Barcelona as the crowd chanted “We are people of peace!” Armored vans and an ambulance were parked nearby.

The referendum has been declared illegal by Spain’s central government in Madrid, which says the constitution states the country is indivisible and has drafted in thousands of police from around Spain into Catalonia to prevent the vote.

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