Catalan pro-independence groups plan to protest and block roads in Barcelona on Friday (21 December) as Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez holds a cabinet meeting in the city under tight security.
The weekly cabinet meeting usually takes place in Madrid but Sánchez’s six-month-old Socialist government decided to hold it in the Catalan capital as part of its efforts to reduce tensions in Catalonia, which last year made a failed attempt to break away from Spain.
Sánchez and the head of Catalonia’s separatist government, Quim Torra, have expressed commitment to an “effective dialogue” to try to resolve the dispute over the wealthy region’s status within Spain, after the two men held talks in Barcelona on Thursday night.
Despite their differences, Sánchez and Torra have had meetings described as cordial.
The government will use the cabinet meeting which will get underway at 10 am to approve a 22% increase in the minimum wage, a pay hike for public workers and announce investments in infrastructure projects in Catalonia, which is home to some 7.5 million people and has its own language.
But the timing of the meeting — a year to the day after Madrid held snap elections in the region after blocking its move for independence — has been called “a provocation” by separatist leaders.
A radical separatist group, the Committees for the Defence of the Republic (CDRs), has vowed to try to stop the cabinet meeting from going ahead by circling the building where it will be held.
The group has blocked highways and railways in the past, and tried to enter the Catalan regional parliament by force.
— Josep Goded (@josepgoded) December 20, 2018
“We will be ungovernable on 21 December,” the group has repeatedly tweeted.
Read it in your language along this thread ?? pic.twitter.com/JV8duLd2Jj
— International CDRs (@intCDR) December 19, 2018
Grassroots separatist organisation ANC, which has previously staged massive pro-independence street demonstrations in Barcelona, has urged supporters to block the streets of Barcelona on Friday with their vehicles.
About 20 pro-independence groups, including the ANC, called on their supporters to march through the streets of Barcelona at 6 pm.
Amid fears of violence on the part of radical separatists, the Spanish government has sent police reinforcements to Barcelona and Catalan leaders have repeated their call for peaceful protests.
Catalonia declared independence in October 2017 but to no avail after pushing ahead with a banned independence referendum.
Sánchez took office as prime minister eight months later after winning a surprise vote of no-confidence against the previous conservative government with the support of Catalan separatist parties.
He initially adopted a more conciliatory tone towards Catalonia than his conservative predecessor but the effort to ease tensions with Catalonia eventually hit a wall.
Catalan separatists also announced that they would not vote in favour of the leader’s 2019 budget after public prosecutors in November called for stiff prison sentences for 18 pro-independence leaders facing trial over the region’s failed secession bid.
Sánchez adopted a harder line after far-right and anti-separatist party Vox won seats for the first time earlier this month in a regional election in Andalusia, a Socialist stronghold.
During a recent debate in parliament, Sánchez compared Catalonia’s break-away movement to Britain’s campaign to leave the European Union. Both were built on “a tale of invented grievances, magnified by manipulation”, he said.
His tone changed after his meeting with Torra, although the solutions to the Catalan conflict proposed by the two leaders remain distinct.
Sánchez has proposed giving Catalonia more powers while Torra wants a legally binding referendum on independence.
“We know that the initial positions are very divergent but we have to see how we advance,” Catalan government spokeswoman Elsa Artadi said.