The city of Barcelona is reeling from a fresh outbreak of violence today (17. Oct) after dozens of cars were set on fire in the latest fallout from the sentencing of 12 separatist politicians.
Protesters hurled acid and molotov cocktails at police as they vented their fury at the Supreme Court’s verdict in a third successive night of turmoil.
Following Tuesday night’s clashes, which had seen protesters set fire to barricades and containers in the Eixample neighbourhood, this time the violence centred on Carrer d’Diputacio, close to the Arc de Triomphe, where Catalonia’s interior ministry is located.
After initially throwing toilet paper and demanding the resignation of interior minister Miquel Buch, who is accused of encouraging police brutality against the demonstrations, protesters reacted violently when officers of the Mossos d’Esquadra attempted to disperse the crowd by firing rubber bullets. As the demonstrators moved away from the scene, they began setting fire to cars and containers and hurling missiles at police.
In total, around 45 cars are thought to have been set on fire, and various reports attest to the use of acid. Eyewitnesses also report demonstrators launching rockets at police helicopters as tensions spiralled out of control.
Week of fury
Barcelona was already in turmoil after two days of clashes, prompted by the Supreme Court’s decision to jail nine pro-independence figureheads for their part in the illegal referendum of 2017. A further three politicians were barred from further political activity.
Hours after the verdict was read out on Monday afternoon, an estimated 8,000 independence supporters flocked to Barcelona’s airport and caused the cancellation of over 100 flights. Then, on Tuesday night, an attempted sit-in that took place outside a Spanish diplomatic building had culminated in protesters setting fire to barricades and containers, a forerunner of last night’s disturbances. Over 100 people have been injured in the two attacks, with reports that several demonstrators have been partially blinded by rubber bullets.
“We’re going ahead”
Despite the controversy, pro-independence groups have insisted they will continue to protest the verdict handed down by Spain’s Supreme Court, suggesting that the Spanish authorities have caused the current crisis by attempting to suppress their democratic rights and handing down heavy jail terms to their figureheads.
A series of five ‘Liberty Marches’ began yesterday at various points across Catalonia, intending to converge on Barcelona Friday and culminate in a general strike, similar to the one which followed the failed independence bid of 2017.
Speaking to InsideOver, Sergi Perello, vice-secretary of the pro-independence CSC union and a key organizer of the protest, said that “the strike will go ahead, because we’ve got nothing to do with what’s happened [this week].”
Perello insists that his strike is not politically motivated, although he admits that his movement is pro-independence and the strike was convened in the wake of Monday’s Supreme Court verdict. He also condemned the actions of the police in suppressing this week’s demonstrations.
Asked if his strike risks stoking further tensions, Perello responded: “Are we supposed to stay at home? We organized this strike three days ago and the reasons are still valid.”
“We’re not responsible for [the fact that] in a strike there are a minority of people who commit violence. The majority have always been peaceful – we don’t have to feel guilty. It will make me very sad if there is violence. Violence is not good for this country [Catalonia] or our objectives.”
“The police must behave within the law.”
“We have the right to protest”
Other separatist leaders have come out in condemnation of this week’s clashes, notably regional president Quim Torra, who had earlier been criticized for encouraging the demonstrations.
Torra, who had urged independence supporters to “squeeze” in the run-up to the Supreme Court verdict and early joined one of the Liberty Marches, told Catalan TV this morning that the violence must stop, adding that “the independence movement condemns and will continue to condemn violence, wherever it comes from.” However, he also blamed “infiltrators and provocateurs” for causing the clashes.
Omnium, the pro-Catalan cultural group which has organized many protests itself, echoed Torra’s condemnation in an interview with InsideOver — but said the protests must continue.
“As always, we’re only going to lend our support to protests and actions that are peaceful,” an Omnium spokesperson told us. “Any action that is violent doesn’t represent us”.
“[However] we are in favour of the actions brought forward by Omnium and the Catalan National Assembly [another pro-independence movement]. The right to protest is a right guaranteed by the Spanish constitution”.
“Faced by the imprisonment of democratic leaders, we won’t renounce our right to protest. But we will, as always, appeal to all protesters that they remain pacifist, civil and exemplary. We’re a pacifist movement by definition.”
“This has gone far enough”
However many people in Barcelona believe it’s time to stop the protests – for everyone’s sake.
A spokesperson for the Catalan Civil Society, a loyalist movement which purports to repair relations between Barcelona and Madrid, told InsideOver: “It seems very sad to me that the Catalan Government and President Torra are manipulating all of us in Catalonia. What Torra has done is outrageous.
“The violence we saw today and the day before yesterday has crossed a red line in terms of freedom of expression and freedom of speech, really there are people who are taking advantage of the situation.
“We call on those people, and Torra, to stop the pro-independence process and stop inciting violence, because it’s not going anywhere. They have to take all Catalans into account, regardless of whether they support independence.
“As an organization, we want to appeal to the spirit of existence. This violence has gone far enough now.”