Protests have engulfed Barcelona, Spain for the 5th day in a row on October 18th, after nine Catalan separatist leaders were sentenced to prison.
The protests took place all around Catalonia, but they were most intense in the Catalonian capital. A crowd of protesters hurled stones and cans at police in riot gear, and dragged large garbage bins to the middle of a main city boulevard, and set them ablaze. Police vans tried but failed to push people back onto the pavements.
Spanish daily El Pais reported that 17 people were arrested on the day.
Health authorities reported 62 people, 41 of them in Barcelona, were injured in protests across Catalonia. Spain’s Ministry of the Interior said that more than 200 agents of security forces were injured in the region.
Protesters blocked all main entrances into Barcelona, and Catalonia. The main highway entry points into Barcelona were cut off by protesters, who had been walking for three days to reach the Catalan capital in so-called “Freedom Marches.”
At 9.30am on October 18th the AP-7 highway was blocked off at a point near the city’s Autonomous University, and in the municipality of La Jonquera, on the border with France. Motorists were also experiencing problems on the N-II, N-240, N-340 and N-420 national highways.
By 6pm the five separate marches had joined together in the center of Barcelona, creating a massive demonstration.
Local police estimated that around half a million people were present.
— Alfonso Congostrina (@alfcongostrina) October 18, 2019
On October 17th, violence ramped up as a group of protesters broke into a branch of La Caixa bank and shot fireworks at police, as they attempted to reach the building that houses the Spanish government’s delegation in Barcelona.
There are reportedly far-right, as well as fascist supporter groups protesters and attempting to clash with each other.
One independence activist was beaten and kicked as he lay on the ground, while “radical separatists” cornered a far-right demonstrator who had a knife and left him with head injuries after disarming him.
— Guillem Andrés (@Guillem_Andres) October 17, 2019
In an attempt to stop the organization of protests, a Spanish judge ordered the closure of a secretive Catalan protest group’s website. “Democratic Tsunami”, a new group that emerged in September and quickly gained a huge social media following.
Its main action was a massive protest at Barcelona airport on October 14th, which caused dozens of flight cancellations.
“The Judicial Authority has told operators to stop serving the domains in which the #Tsunamidemocratic Platform is based … since they could favour the commission of crimes,” police said on Twitter.
In addition, trade unions organized a general strike, which was first planned for October 11th, but then moved to October 18th to coincide with the Supreme Court’s decision.
Trade unions Intersindical-CSC and Intersindical Alternativa de Catalunya, who called the strike, say their aim is to demand the increase of the minimum wage and to denounce recent labour legislative reforms, perceived as harmful to workers.
“We want to denounce the rights that workers have seen fade away in the past few years and demand that they’re given back”, spokeswoman Assumpta Barbens of IAC explained.
According to the US’s Overseas Security Advisory Council, which has been monitoring the situation, “demonstrations are also likely to disrupt roadways leading into Barcelona from various towns throughout the region, including marches on major highways from Tarragona, Tarrega, Berga, Vic and Girona. In addition to clashing with law enforcement, protesters in some areas have disrupted public transportation, damaged traffic lights, and obstructed rail lines and road access to the Barcelona airport”.
The wide protests were caused by the sentencing of 12 former Catalan politicians who were tried for their actions in the 2017 attempt to break away from Spain after an independence referendum that was ruled illegal.
All 12 were found guilty, but only 9 were sent to prison.
The Spanish Supreme Court imposed prison sentences ranging from nine to 13 years. The prison terms were lower than demanded by the prosecution, which had requested up to 25 years behind bars for the former Catalan Vice President Oriol Junqueras.
The Spanish Supreme Court also issued an international arrest warrant for the former head of Catalonia’s regional government Carles Puigdemont.
He currently resides in Belgium, on October 18th he appeared before judicial authorities in the company of his lawyers in response to the warrant, which wants to try him for sedition and misuse of public funds.
Puigdemont declared that he was opposed to being extradited to Spain and he was released without conditions by a Belgian judge, he would only have to return to court for another hearing by the end of October 2019.
Speaking on the Catalan radio network RAC1, Spain’s caretaker interior minister, Fernando Grande-Marlaska, said he hopes that Puigdemont will be extradited to Spain. “We are in the EU and we have grown up with the same values that make us democratic societies: the rule of law, freedom and equality. This means that a decision from a judge in Marseille is worth the same as a decision from a judge in Barcelona, because we all work with the same values. Mr Puigdemont can and must be handed over to Spain.”
Naturally, since the Spanish government is allied to the US, the Catalan independence protesters, carrying out similar activities to those in Hong Kong, for example, are only destabilizing the situation, which needs to be resolved.
Throwing stones, and setting fires in the street is suddenly unacceptable. The Catalan protesters haven’t even throw Molotov cocktails at authorities.
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