Catalonia protests: Tens of thousands stage demos against police violence during independence referendum

Barcelona: People raise arms and shout during a demonstration two days after the banned independence referendum

Catalonia’s leader said the region would declare independence in a matter of days

By: HATTY COLLIER

Tens of thousands of activists took to the streets of Catalonia in protest against police violence during the outlawed independence referendum.

Metro stations shut down in Barcelona and traffic, public transport and businesses were disrupted as pickets blocked dozens of roads after trade unions called a strike in the wake of the violence.

Nearly 900 people were hurt as police struck voters with batons and dragged them along the streets as they tried to stop the referendum on Sunday.

The vote had been deemed illegal by the Madrid government and the country’s top court, but was backed by the Catalan regional authorities.

Catalonia’s leader Carles Puigdemont told the BBC that the region would declare independence in a matter of days.

A protester outside Downing Street, in Westminster (PA)

He said that his government would “act at the end of this week or the beginning of the next”.

If the Spanish government tries to intervene, he said it would be an “error which changes everything”.

In solidarity with Catalans, a few hundred people gathered outside Downing Street in London to demonstrate against the police violence and call for Spain’s prime minister Mariano Rajoy to resign.

On Tuesday, about 300,000 people took to the streets of Barcelona to march in protest, the news agency AFP quoted city police as saying.

Activists march down Via Layetana street next to the city’s major Spanish police station in Barcelona (AP)

Barcelona FC, the city’s football club, joined the strike, saying it would close for the day and none of its teams would train. Carmaker SEAT was forced to shut a production line.

To the north of Barcelona, a line of tractors moved down a road blocked to traffic, accompanied by protesters chanting “Independence!” and “The streets will always be ours!”

Groups of firemen marched and played bagpipes in Barcelona as people cheered them.

Demonstrations: Protests were held across Catalonia on Tuesday after police violence during the independence referendum (REUTERS)

People entwined flowers into the gates of Ramon Llull school, where Spanish police clashed with those wanting to vote in the banned referendum on Sunday.

Barcelona tourist attractions such as museums and architect Antoni Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia church, were shut.

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Catalonia referendum: Hundreds injured as police fire rubber bullets at protesters

Outside Downing Street in London, activists carried placards which read: “Stop the repression. Rajoy must go” and chanted: “Rajoy, hear us say ‘State violence, no way’. Theresa May, hear us say ‘State violence, no way”‘.

Marc Delcort Fradera, who is based in the UK but returned to Barcelona to vote at the weekend, said he had felt moved to “mobilise” following the violence.

He said: “When I woke up on Sunday I just couldn’t believe. I was expecting some kind of repression by the Spanish police but I didn’t expect that much repression and violence.”

He added: “It’s (tonight is) the first demonstration I’ve been to. After what I saw yesterday and Sunday I decided I wanted to do something and start mobilising because something has to change.”

Protests: Thousands of people demonstrate at University square, in downtown Barcelona, on October 3 (EPA)

Catalonia, Spain’s richest region, has its own language and culture and a political movement for independence that has strengthened in recent years.

Pro-independence parties who control the regional government staged Sunday’s referendum in defiance of Spanish courts that had ruled it illegal.

Hundreds were injured on polling day when police fired rubber bullets and charged at crowds with truncheons to disrupt the vote.

Those who participated voted overwhelmingly for independence, a result that was expected since residents who favour remaining part of Spain mainly boycotted the vote.

Opinion polls conducted before the vote suggested only a minority of around 40 per cent of residents in the region back independence. But a majority wanted a referendum to be held, and protesters said the violent police crackdown against the ballot had energised the breakaway camp.

“What happened on October 1 has fired up independence feeling that will never die,” said 18-year-old student Monica Ventinc, who attended a protest on Tuesday.

Spain’s King Felipe VI gave a televised address to the nation at 9pm local time (7pm UK time) on Tuesday after he met the prime minister to discuss the situation in Catalonia.

He said the “irresponsible behaviour” of Catalan leaders put Spain’s economic stability at risk.

The king added that the state needs to ensure constitutional order and the rule of law in Catalonia.

Spain’s King Felipe VI delivers a televised address (AP)

He said that the bid by authorities in the north-eastern region to push ahead with independence has “undermined coexistence” in Catalonia.

“Today, Catalan society is fractured and confronted,” Felipe said, referring to the political crisis as “very serious moments for our democratic life”.

Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont has said the referendum is valid and its result must be implemented. Spain’s Constitutional Court prohibited the ballot, siding with Madrid which argued that it contravened the country’s 1978 constitution which bars breaking up the country.

The referendum has plunged Spain into its worst constitutional crisis in decades, and is a political test for Mr Rajoy, a conservative who has taken a hardline stance on the issue.

Outside of Catalonia, Spaniards mostly hold strong views against its independence drive.

Edited for mb3-org.com

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