Police and violent protesters in Spain’s restive Catalonia region clashed on Saturday after a massive rally in Barcelona. Hundreds of mostly masked youths surrounded the National Police headquarters in downtown Barcelona and threw colourful plastic balls at the officers on guard. When they switched to raining down rocks and bottles, national police with backup from Catalonia’s regional police force charged with batons swinging and fired foam bullets. After a chaotic moment they managed to extend a perimeter while protesters set fire to trash cans in the middle of the streets.
Regional emergency services said 15 people were being treated for injuries as a result of the clashes, including an AP photographer who was hit in the face with a police baton.
What are the protests all about?
The crisis began two years ago when the region staged a banned referendum on October 1 that was marred by police violence, then issued a short-lived declaration of independence, trigging Spain’s worst political crisis in decades.
Saturday’s rally was called by the ANC and Omnium Cultural, the region’s two biggest grassroots pro-independence groups that have organised some of the largest separatist protests in recent years.
Marching down the spacious boulevard, demonstrators held up banners reading “We won’t give in” and chanting “October 1, we won’t forgive, we won’t forget”.
As a police helicopter flew overhead, they broke into loud boos and whistling, an AFP correspondent said.
“I feel really angry,” said a 26-year-old computer technician from Tarragona called Marc, who did not give his surname and described the heavy prison sentences handed to nine separatist leaders as “totally over the top, inhuman, and shameful”.
“The violence doesn’t sit well with me but it’s normal to have a bit of upheaval like we’ve seen in Chile and Ecuador,” he said of a wave of mass protests in Latin America.
“There are different ways of protesting but we have one objective: independence.” A second demonstration called by the radical CDR will being at 7:30 pm (local time), raising fears there could be fresh clashes with police.
Catalans remain sharply divided over the question of separating from Spain, with a September poll showing 44 percent in favour but 48.3 per cent against. The violent protests over the verdict have only deepened that division.
The violence eased off last week although the protests continued, with thousands of flag-waving students marching peacefully through the city on Friday evening.