SPONTANEOUS protests erupted across Catalonia this week by people demanding the release of separatist leaders, after they had been given stiff sentences by the Spanish Supreme Court. Tens of thousands of furious Catalans marched on Barcelona, taking to the city’s streets, and its airport, from Monday onwards.
On Wednesday, for the third consecutive night, there were more ugly riots, the most intense so far, combined with firework blazes, as the Mossos d’Esquadra (Catalan Police) battled to contain the protesters, leading to a city lockdown as a result. Radical protesters even launched firework rockets at the Mossos’ helicopter, but to no avail.
The Catalans’ anger turned to violence because nine democrats and civil society leaders had been imprisoned for several years after organising a 2017 referendum for Calatan independence, which had been banned by the Spanish Government.
Catalan President Quim Torra, who condemned the riots as several arrests were made, said: “There is no justification for burning cars or for any vandalism. This has to stop.”
Earlier, though, he had stressed: “My Government did not accept a verdict, which was an insult to democracy that showed contempt for Catalan society”.
Meanwhile, groups of hooded rebels faced off against the Mossos, the battle taking place against a backdrop of fire, burning cars, hurled stones, acid and Molotov cocktails, much like a war zone, while 80 people were receiving treatment in hospital.
The start of these nerve-racking demos followed Monday sentencing of the Catalan leaders to prison, from nine to 13 years, for sedition and misuse of public funds in a failed 2017 independence bid.
Within minutes of the ruling, demonstrators poured on to the streets of the Catalan capital, waving flags and blocking traffic over the conviction of the separatist leaders. Much more was to follow!
The protests got underway in Barcelona, including one on the city’s main thoroughfare, the Via Laietana, with angry supporters of the Catalan leaders demanding their release.
Crowds also gathered at Plaça San Jaume, the seat of the Catalan government in Barcelona. There were also reports of protesters putting barricades across train tracks and roads.
Meanwhile, Democratic Tsunami, a group advocating more active forms of civil disobedience, sent a message to its 150,000 members, urging them to march on Barcelona Airport, some 15km from the city centre.
“The time has come to make our voice felt around the world,” read the message. “The goal: stop the activity of Barcelona’s airport.”
Torra, flanked by members of the current Catalan Government, said the Catalans would continue to fight for independence, adding: “Repression will never triumph over dialogue, democracy and self-determination.”
Video images from the airport showed riot police clashing with protesters, with reports of tear gas being fired inside the terminal. And some Catalonia police were accused of using excessive brutality on protesters.
A 22-year-old man lost an eye after being hit by a rubber bullet, and there were other horrific injuries reported during the fierce clashes between police and protesters.
At least 170 people are reported to have been injured, after huge crowds of protesters gathered in the streets in the days after the ruling.
Shocking footage, posted online, appears to show police ramming rebels with vehicles, an officer throwing an old woman to the ground, as well as a man, already floored, being punched in the face by another officer.
Violence also erupted between those on opposite sides of Catalonia’s independence debate, with one video showing a man throwing an elderly lady to the ground, after she had been taunting Catalonians with a Spanish flag.
In Barcelona centre, the rebels hurled bottles, flares and fireworks at the Mossos, as well as using fences they had erected outside the Government Delegation in Barcelona… and anything else they could get their hands on. Meanwhile, several roads were blocked.
Barcelona’s El Prat Airport also turned into a battleground, and over 100 flights were cancelled on Monday, plus another 45 on Tuesday and more the following day. Chants, including “give us back the prisoners or the streets will be ours”, could also be heard.
Acting Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, in support of the Supreme Court judges’ decision, wrote on Twitter: “The Government of Spain respects and abides by the decision of the Spanish Supreme Court, which puts an end to a judicial procedure meeting all requirements of due process, transparency and separation of powers.”
Sanchez, who faces another General Election on 10th November, to try to regain his power, added: “Nobody is above the law. In a democracy, nobody is subject to trial for his or her ideas or politics, but, rather, for criminal conduct as provided by the law. In Spain, there are no political prisoners, but some politicians in prison for violating our democratic laws.”