Divisions over the secession drive that roiled Spain in 2017 have re-surfaced on the streets of the Catalonia’s main city Barcelona since the Supreme Court sentenced nine politicians and activists to up to 13 years in jail.
Protesters clashed with police in the Spanish region of Catalonia on Thursday, with some setting cars ablaze on the third day of disturbances caused by convictions handed down to leaders of a failed bid to declare an independent state.
Despite calls for calm from the regional government, protesters blocked roads and train lines during the day and, after dark, set fire to cars. The regional Mossos police force said acid had been thrown at officers.
In some places, police charged at protesters and fired foam projectiles, Reuters witnesses said.
The leader of Spain's Catalonia region condemned increasing unrest in the city of Barcelona on Thursday, as protests intensified three days after nine leaders of a 2017 independence bid were sentenced to up to 13 years in jail.
"We condemn violence,” Quim Torra said in a televised address after midnight, according to a translation of the Catalan language provided by Spain's state broadcaster.
"We cannot let these incidents happen in our country. This has to stop right now."
Moreover, Acting Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said the government would act firmly and proportionately, and in concert with other political parties.
"The Catalan people and all of Spanish society must know that the government is considering all scenarios," Sanchez told a news conference in Madrid.
He added that the government had set up a special commission including the national intelligence agency to advise it on how to manage the situation.
Sanchez will lead his Socialist Party to Spain’s second election this year on Nov. 10 under pressure from right-wing parties to be tougher on Catalonia and take control of the region’s security forces.
"Sanchez must impose direct rule on Catalonia," said Albert Rivera, leader of liberal party Ciudadanos.
Journalist Stephen Burgen has the latest on violence in Spain's Barcelonapic.twitter.com/D9N97ELCgT— TRT World Now (@TRTWorldNow) October 16, 2019
"Violence doesn't represent us"
Torra, the leader of the Catalan regional parliament, joined a demonstration earlier on Wednesday which blocked a road near the separatist stronghold of Girona. "Violence doesn’t represent us," he wrote on Twitter.
Catalan interior affairs chief Miquel Buch told a news conference: "The defence of freedom does not require launching hard objects at police."
Several thousand people, many of them young, congregated at sunset along a wide avenue in central Barcelona, waving pro-independence flags and throwing toilet paper in the air.
Isaac Grana, an 18-year-old student, said he thought protesters had burned containers because peaceful protests since 2012 had not achieved their goals.
"Making noise is the only way to make people pay attention to us," he said. "If Spain were a democratic state, people would not be jailed for wanting a vote," he added.
A smaller demonstration in the capital Madrid resulted in one person being treated for minor injuries by paramedics, emergency services said.
Since Torra's predecessor held a referendum banned by Spanish courts, Catalonia has been closely watched by other European countries, such as Scotland, where there are also movements for independence.
More than 4,000 companies have moved their headquarters out of Catalonia, including Catalan banks CaixaBank and Banco Sabadell.
Acting Economy Minister Nadia Calvino said on Wednesday growth in the euro zone’s fourth-largest economy, which has been outperforming its neighbours, would have been faster were it not for the impact of the independence bid.
La Liga, Spain's top soccer league, asked the Spanish Football Federation to move a match scheduled between Barcelona and Real Madrid on Oct. 26 to Madrid because of the protests.
Spain’s Supreme Court issued a European arrest warrant on Monday for Catalonia’s former leader, Carles Puigdemont, who lives in self-imposed exile in Belgium.
The Brussels prosecutor's office said on Wednesday it had received the request. Belgium rejected two earlier extradition requests and a spokeswoman for the prosecutor said it may take weeks to reach a decision on the new request.