Catalan president, Quim Torra, has insisted on a new independence vote for Catalonia, after he called for an end to the violent protests, which brought Barcelona to its knees over the past few days.

Quim Torra calls new vote

“This has to stop right now,” Torra said in a televised address on Wednesday. “There is no reason or justification for burning cars, nor any other vandalism. Protest should be peaceful.

“We cannot allow such groups who infiltrate and provoke to harm the image of a movement which counts millions of Catalans.”

Torra told the regional parliament on Thursday that he wanted an official referendum for a “Catalan republic” by next year. If it is approved, it means that Catalonia could be independent from Spain by the end of 2021.

He said that there was a “false narrative” about the Catalan separatist movement being violent. He added with defiance, “If we have been sentenced to 100 years in prison for putting out the ballot boxes, the response is clear: we’ll have to put them out again for self-determination.”

Why did the riots begin?

The riots were sparked in Barcelona on Monday after the Spanish Supreme Court sentenced nine independence movement leaders to prison for up to 13 years. They were imprisoned for their parts in the failed independence bid that took place in 2017. The leaders first held an illegal referendum then proclaimed a declaration of independence, causing Madrid to suspend Catalonia’s autonomy and sack its government.

Soon after the verdict was revealed, around 10,000 protesters flocked Barcelona’s El Prat airport, disrupting transportation services and causing the cancellation for over 100 flights. The protests also quickly spread to other regions of Catalonia like Tarragona and Lleida.

“As far as what the Supreme Court has done with the sentencing, 9 to 13 years is way too much. But at the same time, they did something illegal so they should be charged. But I don’t think it is fair to get such a long sentence,” Julio Garcia, a Catalan local told InsideOver.

As the violence escalated, cars were set on fire, and police officers were attacked with stones, acid, fireworks, and other objects. Hundreds gathered in the mobs, with one group of masked protesters screaming in front of a burning barricade, “This isn’t violence, it’s self-defence!”

Jose Ramon Garcia, an elderly local who had gone out for a quiet drink and found himself engulfed in the mobs told AFP, “I’m just a bag of nerves.”

“I was just sitting calmly in the bar and suddenly they appeared from all directions,” he said. “And these are ‘peaceful’ demonstrators?”

An 18-year-old student, Bernat Busquet, draped in an independence flag explained that many had simply lost the will to protest peacefully.

“It’s a reaction to what the police did on October 1 to shut down the referendum and against what the justice system did on Monday in condemning the separatist [leaders],” he told AFP.

According to the authorities, eighty people – including 46 police officers – have been injured overnight and 33 people arrested.

Fourth general election

Spain is set to have its fourth general election on November 10 in just four years because Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has been unable to maintain a stable government. At a Spanish delegation this week, many Catalans from various backgrounds described Sánchez’s government as “fascist” and “a dictatorship”. Sanchez has remained steadfast, stating that the Spanish government would not bulk under the pressure of the ensuing protests.

Jane Muir, a British ex-pat who has lived in Barcelona for twenty years told InsideOver, “I respect the desire of the Catalan people to seek independence to reclaim their culture after so many years of being oppressed by dictatorship. However, the ways in which I have experienced and witnessed the drive to push for independence is neither effective nor right. Protesting and rioting does nothing but cripple the city and creates tension and fear. I think there could be a right way to earn independence but until that way is found, all that will come from a new vote is more chaos and political backlash.”

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