Around 30 police officers have been injured during violent clashes with pro-independence protesters in Barcelona today as riot police grappled with Catalan separatists.
The brutal conflict was sparked after the Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez began a cabinet meeting in the regional capital Barcelona in an attempt at reconciliation.
The riot squad officers, members of Catalonia’s regional Mossos d’Esquadra force, were hurt as they tried to stop masked demonstrators reaching the city centre venue chosen by Mr Sanchez for his weekly meeting.
Officers dragged masked demonstrators off highways and beat them with batons as they attempted to march closer to the Llotja de Mar where the meeting was taking place.
Protesters swarmed the streets and launched smoke bombs at the riot police who had been deployed to protect the area, after Mr Sanchez flew to Barcelona to meet with the region’s pro-secession president, Quim Torra.
A woman scuffles with members of the Catalan regional police force during the protests sparked by a cabinet meeting held by PM Pedro Sanchez in Barcelona
Catalan riot police charge against demonstrators as they try to approach the site where Spain’s cabinet held a meeting
Security forces intervene in protesters at the Llotja de Mar as one man wearing a skull mask brandishes a twig
Pro-independence supporters called the protests to show their disgust at Sanchez’s decision to lead his weekly Cabinet meeting in Barcelona in a show of resolve against full independence.
The cabinet meeting usually takes place in Madrid but Prime Minister Sanchez’s Socialist government decided to hold it in the Catalan capital as part of efforts to reduce tensions.
It appeared to have the opposite effect in some streets of the capital of the northeastern region, which last year made a failed attempt to break away from Spain.
A riot police holds his baton up at demonstrators to prevent them from approaching the cordoned off area
It appeared that the time of the meeting – a year to the day after Madrid held snap elections in the region after blocking its move for independence – offended some Catalans.
Textile worker Carles Serra, 45 said: ‘This is a provocation. They have come here to provoke us.
Protester Joan Toll lamented lack of progress after an illegal referendum and self-declaration of independence in 2017, she said: ‘If you think about what has happened in the last year, we have achieved nothing. We are only being repressed more.
‘No one wants to see violence but people are getting tired.’
Catalan pro-independence supporters throw smoke bombs against the Mossos dÂ´Esquadra as they protest
Mossos dÂ´Esquadra officers arrest a Catalan pro-independence supporter who had been detained on the ground
– A member of the Catalan regional police force Mossos d’Esquadra kicks a smoke bomb thrown by protesters
Dozens of protesters, some wearing high-visibility vests, sat on the AP 7 highway, which runs down the Mediterranean coast, with their hands held in the air as police in riot gear pulled them from the road.
Protesters threw metal barriers and stones at officers and tried to breach a police barrier a few hundred metres from where the meeting was taking place.
It is currently believed that 11 protesters have been arrested during the demonstration, which was initially supposed to be a peaceful protest.
However, several thousand other demonstrators gathered peacefully near the city’s Franca rail station. Some held signs reading: ‘Occupying forces, out’.
A woman gestures for calm opposite members of the Catalan regional police force Mossos d’Esquadra as police dragged Catalan separatist protesters off highways on Friday
A demonstrator runs towards a police van with a stick as protests unfold in the streets of Barcelona
One man was arrested in central Barcelona carrying materials that could be used to build an explosive device, the regional Mossos police force said on Twitter.
Around 40 roads were affected by the protests, local media said.
The Catalan regional government, led by a coalition of pro-secession parties, is also supporting the protests despite an agreement with central authorities to work on a solution to the political crisis that has festered since Catalonia’s failed secession attempt last year.
Members of the regional police force Mossos d’Esquadra detain a protester during the protest which was held after a cabinet meeting sparked fury due to its show of resolve against full independence
Officers push towards the swarm of protesters who have gathered in the street to take action against the cabinet meeting
Riot police apprehend a protester who is wearing a face covering and sunglasses during the outbreak
A police officer clashes with a masked protester in the street as a woman next to them holds up her hands
Members of the Catalan regional police force Mossos d’Esquadra stand guard
Protesters remove crowd control barricades during scuffles with police
Members of CDR stop the traffic as they march towards the Llotja de Ma carrying banners which say ‘no pass’
Following the meeting the Spanish government appeared to have taken the first step to nullify a court-martial trial that led to the execution in 1940 of Lluis Companys, the Catalan regional president arrested by the German Nazi secret police in France and handed over to the regime of dictator Gen. Francisco Franco.
Spain’s Socialist administration also proposed renaming Barcelona airport in honor of Josep Tarradellas, who headed the Catalan government in exile during the dictatorship.
Government Spokeswoman Isabel Celaa also confirmed nationwide measures previously announced: The country’s monthly minimum wage will be raised from 736 to 900 euros ($1,019).
Civil servants’ salaries will increase 2.5 per cent starting on January 1, as part of an effort to adjust incomes to the economic recovery after years of austerity.
Protesters try to build a barricade as others want to prevent it near where the meeting is being held
Catalan police prevent demonstrators from approaching the area by acting as a human wall against the protesters
Demonstrators gesture as they confront police officers during a stand off in the street where protesters held the region’s flag
A member of the Catalan regional police force Mossos d’Esquadra kicks a smoke bomb thrown by protester
The 22 per cent minimum wage hike is part of the Socialists’ deal to pass the country’s 2019 budget with the support of Podemos, an anti-austerity party.
After their second meeting since both took power earlier this year, Sanchez and Catalonia’s president, Quim Torra, issued a joint statement on Thursday calling for dialogue to settle the conflict over the future of the northeastern region.
‘Despite the notable differences about its origin, nature and ways of resolution,’ the statement said, both governments ‘share the commitment for effective dialogue that is linked to a political proposal that has the backing of a large part of Catalan society.’
That outcome was beyond the low expectations that had been placed before the talks, when disagreement over their scope and format kept officials negotiating until the very last minute.
A protester motions to throw something during the conflict between protesters and police
Police officers detain a demonstrator as campaigners took to the streets to show their disgust at Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s decision to lead his weekly Cabinet meeting in Barcelona
Members of the independence CDR gather in the streets of Barcelona before heading to the meeting
A woman with a Spanish flag faces the independence Catalan group Defense Committee of the Republic
Members of CDR stop the traffic as they march towards the Llotja de Mar where a Spains Cabinet meeting is being held
Catalan riot Police officers remove a protester while breaking a road block
Catalan riot Police officers remove protesters while breaking a road block
Spanish police vans drive in Barcelona’s port area while dozens of protesters elsewhere sat on the AP 7 highway, which runs down the Mediterranean coast
Catalan pro-independence protesters stand behind crowd control barricades during the demonstration
Riot police guard as a woman with Spanish flag confronts demonstrators with Esteladas (Catalan separatist flags)
Pro-independence demonstrators march on a major road near the port of Barcelona
Protesters shout and jeer while holding banners while the cabinet meeting took place
Police forces take cover behind rubbish bins as they hold up their riot shields
Police forces take security measures as officers stand guard on the roof of a nearby building
But despite the progress, distrust prevailed. Security in the prosperous northeastern region, normally in the hands of the Catalan police, has been reinforced with hundreds of anti-riot officers sent by Spain’s national police forces for Friday’s ministers’ meeting.
The venue, a 14th-century Gothic palace in downtown Barcelona, was shielded with various security cordons and fences, with anti-riot police and vehicles keeping protesters away from it.
There were moments of tension early Friday when regional Mossos d’Esquadra officers used batons to disperse protesters and open a major road near Barcelona’s port.
Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, centre rear, presides over a weekly Cabinet meeting with government ministers held in Barcelona
Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, centre, poses with government ministers before the meeting
A protester holding a stone gestures someone stood in the street wearing a hooded jacket and mask
Catalan police prevent a sea of people moving towards the area where the cabinet meeting is being held
Demonstrators clash with police as the officers hold up riot shields and step forward brandishing batons
Most of the protesters covered their faces with scarves as they took part in the demonstration
A girl who had covered her face with a black mask stood among the protesters in the streets of Barcelona
The area where the cabinet meeting was held was cordoned off by police who put up barriers to stop protesters
Police officers push back demonstrators during a protest against Spain’s cabinet meeting with riot shields
Protesters run for cover from a member of the Catalan regional police force Mossos d’Esquadra during a scuffle
A Catalan pro-independence supporter (R) tries to prevent masked protesters from dumping garbage containers
A protester raises a crowd control barricade opposite members of the Catalan regional police force
Riot police face demonstrators who hold banners and flags in the crowd of angry protesters
Sanchez, who has been harshly criticised by the right-wing opposition for his meeting with Torra, wants to send the signal that the Spanish government should be able to hold its Cabinet meeting in anywhere in Spain.
He has also presented the visit as ‘a way of showing affection to Catalonia.’ But many separatists see it as a provocation, coming a year after a snap regional election called as a way out of last year’s independence attempt.
More than one year after an illegal referendum on a split from Spain, the wealthy northeastern region of 7.5 million people is still bitterly divided.
Sanchez’s choice of venue was both a show of resolve against full independence and also part of a strategy to secure the survival of his minority government with the aid of Catalonian pro-independence parties by offering them some more autonomy.
Members of CDR march towards the Llotja de Mar holding a banner which reads ‘no’
Around 40 roads were affected by the protests, local media said
Last year, dozens were injured in numerous confrontations between national police and pro-independence protesters.
There were further signs of a spirit of compromise as four of the leaders ended a hunger strike, and their party said it would support Sanchez’s broad plan for the national budget in 2019 and 2020, currently blocked.
The region unilaterally declared independence in October 2017, triggering Spain’s worst political crisis in decades and prompting the previous conservative central government to seize control there for several months.
Pro-Independence demonstrators walk in downtown Barcelona waving Esteladas
Spain’s constitution prohibits regions from breaking away.
The Socialists control fewer than a quarter of seats in the Madrid parliament and need the support of smaller parties, including Catalan nationalists, to pass legislation.
Failure to approve the 2019 budget could topple Sanchez’s government, raising the possibility of a right-of-centre government with stronger centralist preferences coming to power – a risk some Catalan politicians would prefer to avoid.
A radical separatist group, the Committees for the Defence of the Republic (CDR), blocked a dozen main roads from around dawn on Friday, regional transport authorities said.
‘We will be ungovernable on December 21,’ the group repeatedly tweeted.
A grassroots separatist organisation, ANC, urged supporters to block the streets of Barcelona with their vehicles Friday.
About 20 pro-independence groups, including the ANC, called on their supporters to march through the streets of Barcelona at 6pm.
During last year’s independence vote in Catalonia, Spanish police attempted to shut down impromptu voting stations, provoking international outcry with the use of batons and rubber bullets in melees that injured dozens.
Members of CDR stop the traffic and cause chaos on the streets as they make their way to the Cabinet meeting
Catalan riot police block access to demonstrators who are heading towards the venue
Catalonia’s secession crisis that sparked violence and forced the region’s leader into exile in Belgium
Long-running tensions between Madrid and Catalonia boiled over in 2017 when the region in north-east Spain held a referendum on independence.
Catalonia, one of Spain’s 17 autonomous regions, has a population of around 7.5 million people and includes the tourist-popular city of Barcelona.
The region has its own language as well as Spanish and generates a fifth of Spain’s 1.1trillion-euro ($1.3trillion) economy, but polls show its voters are divided on the question of independence.
The European Union has said an independent Catalonia would not be allowed to stay in the bloc.
The referendum on October 1, 2017, was organised by Catalan authorities but declared invalid by the central Spanish government, led by Mariano Rajoy.
Spanish civil guard officers and firefighters hold back a group of protesters on October 1, 2017, the day of Catalonia’s disputed independence referendum
The pro-independence side won with more than 90 per cent of the vote but turnout was below half and the ballot was considered illegal by the Spanish government.
Spanish national police and Civil Guard officers clashed with voters as they tried to break up balloting.
More than 890 civilians and 430 police were injured when anti-riot squads moved into polling stations and dispersed voters.
Spain’s anti-riot squads fired rubber bullets, smashed into polling stations and beat protesters with batons.
But Spanish authorities commended the police, saying their response to the voting was professional and proportionate.
On October 27, 2017, separatist lawmakers declared independence in a session boycotted by opposition parties.
The declaration was not recognised by any UN country and then-Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont fled to Brussels three days later.
Rejecting Catalonia’s move, Madrid sacked the Catalan government and imposed direct rule, dissolved its parliament and issued an arrest warrant for Puigdemont. The latter was later dropped.
Former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont, pictured at the height of the independence crisis in October 2017, who fled into exile in Belgium after the declaration
Spain’s King Felipe VI also spoke out, urging Catalan lawmakers to respect their region’s diversity and avoid confrontation over independence.
New Catalan elections in December 2017 saw separatist parties triumph but the pro-independence movement remains divided.
Many Catalan separatist leaders and activists who supported the referendum are either awaiting trial in prison or fled the country.
Direct rule over Catalonia was removed in May 2018 when pro-separatist Quim Torra was chosen as the region’s new leader, replacing Puigdemont.
A month later Rajoy was ousted as Spain’s prime minister and replaced by Pedro Sanchez who has shown more willingness to engage with the Catalan movement.
However Sanchez has so far only offered increased powers while the Catalan government is asking for a binding vote on secession.