Violent clashes between Catalan separatists, police escalate

The fresh clashes come on the eve of a huge protest planned in the Catalan capital

Photo: EPA Protesters in downtown Barcelona, Catalonia.

Catalan separatists burned barricades and clashed with police in Barcelona on Thursday in a fourth night of violence triggered by Spain's jailing of nine of their leaders over Catalonia's failed effort to earn independence.

Chanting "independence" hundreds of young protesters set fire to improvised roadblocks in the centre of the city late in the evening, overturned metal barriers and tossed Molotov cocktails at police, who responded by firing foam and anti-riot rounds, according to AFP correspondents.

The fresh clashes came on the eve of a huge protest planned in the Catalan capital. Separatists have called a general strike and a rally on Friday against the Supreme Court's decision to jail the separatist leaders for their role in a referendum banned by Madrid and a short-lived declaration of independence.

Meanwhile, earlier on Thursday, around 25,000 striking students and their supporters took part in a midday rally outside Barcelona city hall, according to municipal police. Thousands more are on a cross-country march towards Barcelona for Friday's rally.

Activists blocked several roads across Catalonia by burning tyres while the commuter rail service in Barcelona was intermittently disrupted due to demonstrators on the tracks, officials said. Several roads and highways were also blocked off due to the mass marches which departed on Wednesday from five Catalan towns heading for Barcelona.

"The actions we have been staging over the past few days testify to the helplessness we feel as the Spanish state continues to reject (independence) and threaten us, while Europe remains silent," a 23-year-old accountant, who would only give his first name as David, told AFP.

Xenia Cabeza, 18, said she was protesting "because they don't let us vote in a referendum" on secession. She carried a sign that read "You can't imprison an entire people".

As Europost reminds, on Monday, 14 October the Spanish Supreme Court issued a European arrest warrant for the deposed former President Carles Puigdemont following its sentencing of former Catalan Vice President Oriol Junqueras to 13 years in jail for sedition and misuse of public funds. Several other political leaders were also handed multi-year prison sentences for their roles in holding a failed independence vote in 2017. The verdict has sparked three days of large demonstrations which have turned increasingly violent with separatist activists engaged in nighttime clashes with riot police in Barcelona and elsewhere. Emergency services said 58 people were injured, including a 17-year-old who was hit by a police van.

Another 38 people were injured in protests in other Catalan cities, including Lerida and Girona.
Police have arrested 97 people across Catalonia since the protests began, Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska said Thursday.

"We are experiencing episodes of great violence in Catalonia carried out by minority groups which are perfectly organised," he said, vowing there would be "no impunity" for those involved in the violence.

While Catalan president Quim Torra has sanctioned and even encouraged civil disobedience, his government is also responsible for the regional police who are charged with controlling demonstrations, putting him in an uncomfortable position. Torra had thus not commented on the unrest for days, but overnight he called for an immediate halt to the violent clashes, saying there was "no reason or justification for burning cars".

But just hours later, he pledged in Catalonia's regional parliament to push for a new vote on secession by the end of his term in early 2022.

"We must push forward and not allow ourselves to be intimidated by threats and bans," he said.

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