Separatist protesters block roads and scuffle with police in Barcelona
22nd December 2018

Barcelona boils over: Separatist protesters clash with police in violent scuffles as Spanish government holds highly provocative cabinet meeting in Catalan capital

  • Police dragged separatist protesters off highways as they campaigned against a cabinet meeting on Friday
  • PM Pedro Sanchez began a cabinet meeting in an attempt at reconciliation with the Catalonia region
  • The meeting sparked fury due to its show of resolve against full independence which the region voted against
  • One man was arrested for carrying materials which could build an explosive device during the protests
  • The Catalan government is supporting the protests despite an agreement to work on a solution
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Police dragged Catalan separatist protesters off highways on Friday as Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez began a cabinet meeting in the regional capital Barcelona in an attempt at reconciliation. 

Pro-independence supporters called the protests to show their disgust at Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s decision to lead his weekly Cabinet meeting in Barcelona.

Dozens of protesters, some wearing high-visibility vests, sat on the AP 7 highway, which runs down the Mediterranean coast, hands held in the air as police in riot gear pulled them from the road.

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

Security forces intervene in protesters at the Llotja de Mar as one man wearing a skull mask brandishes a twig

Catalan pro-independence supporters throw smoke bombs against the Mossos d´Esquadra as they protest

Mossos d´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

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. 

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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

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’

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

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.

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.   

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