Spanish Civil Guard police in riot gear burst into a polling station minutes before Catalan regional leader Carles Puigdemont was due to vote in a referendum on Catalan independence from Spain that has been declared illegal by Madrid.

Police used axes to smash a window at the sports center being used as a voting center and forced open the door in the province of Girona.

Live TV pictures showed police with black berets and riot shields fanning out through the voting station, apparently searching for ballot boxes, while would-be voters, fists raised in the air, defiantly sang the Catalan anthem.

Puigdemont had announced he would vote at the polling station near Girona at 0930 AM (0730 GMT), around the same time as the police entered, but there was no sign of him in the television footage.