Ahead of election, Spain braces for weeks of violent protests after ‘historic’ sentence

Protesters create a burning barricade during a rally in Barcelona on 15 October 2019 against the Spanish Supreme Court's sentencing of former Catalan leaders. [EPA-EFE/ENRIC FONTCUBERTA]

Less than a month before a fresh general election, Spain enters one of the most complex and volatile periods in its recent democratic history, after the Supreme Court sentenced on Monday nine Catalan independence leaders for their involvement in the banned 2017 independence referendum. EURACTIV’s partner EFE reports.

Fifty-one people were arrested after a night of heavy clashes and unrest. Protesters lit fires and set up barricades in Barcelona, and other big Catalan cities.

After violent demonstrations against the sentence, considered “unfair” and “undemocratic” by independence leaders, another rallying cause was the marking of the 79th anniversary of the execution in Montjuic (on the outskirts of Barcelona) of Catalan independence leader Lluís Companys, who chaired the “Generalitat” (Catalan government) between 1934 and 1940.

Scores of protesters clashed violently with police on Monday afternoon and into the night as agents of the Catalan regional police attempted to restore order at the airport. One man lost an eye in clashes between the police and pro-independence protesters at Barcelona’s El-Prat airport, EFE reported.

The revolt ended with 131 people injured, 115 of them at the airport, while 27 were taken to hospital.

Acting Regional Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska said the actions of the Catalan regional police and state security forces developed with “proportionality, professionalism and efficiency” to restore order and security.

Meanwhile, the Catalan regional government held an extraordinary meeting on Tuesday to agree on a response to the Supreme Court ruling.

The Spanish government in Madrid issued a statement late on Tuesday pointing at “coordinated groups that are using street violence to break the social harmony in Catalonia.”

Acting socialist PM Pedro Sánchez (PSOE) will meet on Wednesday with the three main opposition leaders to discuss a coordinated response to the escalating events.

A new referendum?

Displeasure, anger and frustration are tangible among Catalan separatists: the president of the Catalan Parliament, Roger Torrent, said the “only proposal the PSOE has for Catalonia is “threat, courts, the sentence and heavy hand”.

Challenging the “fairness” of the sentence, Catalan president, Quim Torra, said the Catalan independence movement and its supporters “would do it  [referendum] again. We won’t give up our right to decide,” he stressed.

Mass disobedience”

Protesters cut off roads and train tracks on Monday evening and Tuesday night to denounce the Supreme Court’s ruling. Thousands of university students rallied in the centre of Barcelona as student organisations called for “mass disobedience.”

Students carrying banners with slogans such as “Against the repressive sentence, self-determination and amnesty”, “Freedom for political prisoners” and “Against state repression” congregated in front of the headquarters of the Catalan regional government building in Barcelona.

The demonstrators halted traffic on main roads of the Catalan capital and interrupted a section of services of the municipal tram for an hour, according to the Barcelona police.

Some secondary roads in the provinces of Barcelona, Girona and Lleida were also cut.

On Tuesday, Meritxell Budó, spokeswoman of the Catalan government said she “understands” and “shares” yesterday’s demonstrations in Barcelonaand also justified the actions carried out by regional police forces to “protect the demonstrators”, Budó stressed.

Democratic tsunami”

Spanish police and members of the regional Mossos d’Esquadra force were deployed to the city’s El Prat airport, where protesters gathered and managed to partially disrupt air traffic.

Demonstrations were organised by a separatist movement called “Tsunami Democràtic”. Police prevented people from entering the airport building unless they could produce a boarding pass.

The Catalan government said on Tuesday it will carry out an investigation to determine if the anti-riot police had acted properly, after receiving complaints about abusive behaviour and the use of rubber bullets.

Train services between the city centre and the airport were halted on police orders to prevent protesters from reaching the air transport hub.

Football and politics? Fútbol Club Barcelona also protests

The “independence tsunami” also reached the football camp in “La Liga”: Fútbol Club Barcelona (FCB) published on Monday the press release “La prisión no es la solución” (Jail is not the solution) where it expressed support to “constitutional independentism” and rejecting the sentence.

The convicted Catalan leaders were found guilty of sedition — and some for misuse of public funds — for their role in the independence referendum on 1 October 2017, which was ruled illegal by the Spanish judiciary.

Spain’s Supreme Court jails Catalan leaders amid protests

Nine Catalan politicians and activists have on Monday been sentenced to up to 13 years in prison by Spain’s Supreme Court for their involvement in a banned referendum in 2017, amid strong reactions from separatists. 

Franco’s remains removal  – a Civil War wound still bleeding?

This October will leave a mark in Spain’s history for three things: the Supreme Court sentence, the expected – and controversial – removal of late dictator Francisco Franco’s remains, and the new elections in November, after acting socialist PM Pedro Sánchez failed to obtain the majority in April.

Franco’s remains are to be moved from a mausoleum at El Valle de los Caídos (the Valley of the Fallen) near Madrid, where the right-wing military dictator was entombed following his death in 1975, to the Mingorrubio municipal cemetery outside the capital, where his wife is buried.

The acting deputy prime minister Carmen Calvo said last week the removal of Franco’s remains would go ahead before 25 October. Having a dictator in a mausoleum can’t be tolerated in a modern democracy, she stressed.

The far-right Vox party, as well as many other Spaniards nostalgic of the “Franco era”,  including the Franco family, do not share the same view. Vox won 24 seats in parliament in the April elections and is shaping up to be the third political force in the future parliament, according to a new poll.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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