A general strike has been called in Catalonia on Friday, marking the end of a week of protests following the ruling of Spain’s Supreme Court on Monday.
The court sentenced nine Catalan pro-independence leaders to jail for sedition.
Thousands of people have joined a series of “marches for freedom”, which are set to converge in the Catalan capital on Friday.
Mass protests continue to rage in Catalonia, as people took to the streets for the fourth consecutive night to condemn harsh prison sentences handed to the pro-independence leaders by the Spain’s Supreme Court.
Protesters have been clashing with the police and setting fires in the streets of Barcelona. At the heart of the mobilization are the Catalan youth.
Demonstrators were detained in Barcelona, Lleida, Tarragona and Girona on Wednesday night as the protests spread across Spain’s northeast region.
Protests gripped the Catalan capital on Thursday, continuing the week’s unrest. During the day, striking students hit the streets, and in the evening, crowds of protesters gathered in central Barcelona.
In most places, the crowds were peaceful, even turning the demonstration into a giant game of volleyball.
However, more hardcore pro-independence protesters soon began erecting barricades in the streets and setting things on fire.
Tensions rose even higher where groups of unionists counter-protesters, some covering their faces or draped in the Spanish flag, began shouting slogans and making Nazi salutes.
There were reports from Catalan sympathizers on social media of nationalist gangs beating up pro-independence demonstrators, some claiming the police were turning a blind eye to the violence.
So far, the unrest has not reached the levels seen on Wednesday night, when some 100 people were injured in clashes between pro-independence activists and police.
According to official figures, some 400 dumpsters were burned on Wednesday alone and the city has already sustained property damage of more than €1 million.
The ongoing protest was sparked by the Spanish Supreme Court’s ruling sentencing nine pro-independence leaders to lengthy jail terms – ranging from nine to 13 years – over their roles in the failed 2017 independence bid.
Furthermore, Spain issued a new European arrest warrant for the former Catalan President Carlos Puigdemont, who managed to slip through Madrid’s hands back in 2017 and is now living in exile in Belgium.
Catalan regional leader Quim Torra condemned the unrest but called for a new vote for independence within two years in a speech to Parliament on Thursday, promising “We’ll return to the ballot box again on self-determination.”
Defying Madrid’s demand to “firmly” keep order, supporters of jailed Catalan pro-independence leaders launched a fresh rally in Barcelona. The protest later turned into scuffles with police and barricades were also set ablaze.
The unrest is gripping the Catalan capital, as well as other cities.
On Wednesday, the demonstrators were seen throwing hundreds of white paper toilet rolls into the air during the gathering in central Barcelona. The bizarre performance meant “there is a lot that needs cleaning up,” according to the protest organizers.
Riot police were also dispatched to the scene en-masse. Law enforcement officers have been pelted with projectiles, and scuffles between protesters and police have erupted multiple times.
Venting their anger and trying to draw attention to their cause, the protesters also destroyed road signs and set improvised barricades alight.
The police repeatedly charged at the protesters with batons drawn, and were seen shooting at the crowds and in the air with pump-action shotguns and larger-caliber devices. The latter resembled the notorious ‘Flash-Ball’ launchers that left many maimed during the Yellow Vests protests in France.
It was not immediately clear what ammunition the law enforcement used. Several protesters were apparently injured and were seen being led away by their comrades while visibly limping.
More than 200 people have been reported injured over the first two days in Barcelona and other cities throughout Catalonia.
On Tuesday, protesters occupied and later clashed with police at Barcelona’s El Prat airport, which led to the cancellation of multiple flights.
The Spanish government blamed “coordinated groups” of protesters for the violence on the streets. Madrid said it “doesn’t rule out any scenario” and vowed to keep the order in Catalonia by any means it sees fit, yet with “firmness and proportionality.”
Such statements might signal that the central government is readying for a widespread crackdown on pro-independence Catalan protesters.
The 2017 failed independence referendum was met with an overwhelming police response that left hundreds of people injured.
Chaotic scenes with the police smashing into polling stations, snatching ballot boxes and plainly beating up people partaking in the vote, drew widespread condemnation from international humanitarian groups at the time.
Region’s president pushes for second vote
The president of Spain’s Catalonia region has said he will push for a new independence referendum.
Quim Torra said another independence vote should go ahead within two years.
Speaking in the Catalan parliament, Torra said that the sentences handed down to Catalan leaders would not stop a second vote from going ahead.
“We’ll return to the ballot box again on self-determination. If all parties and groups make it possible, we have to be able to finish this legislative term by validating independence,” he said.
He has condemned violence, which saw protesters clash with riot police.
The Spanish authorities say they are investigating who is coordinating the disruption. Torra blamed “infiltrators” but government spokesperson Isabel Celaá described those instigating the violence as “coordinated young Catalans” whose actions were not improvised.
Police released footage of a firework fired at one of their helicopters flying over demonstrators in Barcelona.
The Catalan parliament’s term ends in December 2021.
Spain’s Constitutional Court has warned Catalan officials of the legal consequences if they break the law by pursuing independence.
Torra also called for an end to the violence. He said: “We will not permit incidents like those we are seeing in the streets.
“This has to stop right now. There is no reason nor justification for burning cars, nor any other vandalism.”