Friday 20 July 2018

Catalans take to the street following referendum violence

Demonstrations in Barcelona yesterday. Photo: Reuters
Demonstrations in Barcelona yesterday. Photo: Reuters

Sam Edwards

Metro stations were closed in Barcelona, pickets blocked roads, and state workers walked out yesterday in protests across Catalonia over a Spanish ­police crackdown on a banned independence referendum.

The stoppages, in response to a call for a general strike by pro-independence groups and trade unions, affected the public sector, public transport and basic services.

The atmosphere in ­Catalonia has been feverish since the Madrid government sent in police on Sunday to stop the ­referendum that had been banned by Spanish authorities, injuring hundreds of people as they tried to vote.

Results showed voters overwhelmingly backed independence in the ballot, which opponents of secession mostly boycotted.

The referendum has plunged Spain into its worst ­constitutional crisis in decades.

Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont has said the vote was valid, raising the prospect that the Catalan parliament could unilaterally declare independence from Spain within days. Mr Puigdemont has also called for international mediation in the region's dispute.

Madrid says the constitution prohibits secession and can only be changed if all Spaniards, not just Catalans, agree.

Thousands of people took part in marches and protests in Barcelona, the regional capital.

A big crowd gathered ­outside the local headquarters of Spain's ruling Popular Party.

Catalan firefighters, who have assumed a role as mediators between demonstrators and police, stood between the crowd and police.

"In no way can we accept that they come here with this kind of repression," taxi driver Alejandro Torralbo (64) said of Sunday's police action.

Student Monica Ventinc (18) said: "They can't do this. What happened on October 1 has fired up independence feeling that will never die."

Metro stations were deserted as services were cut back sharply, pickets blocked traffic on Gran Via street, and traffic on six major highways in the region was disrupted by protests.

Protesters used a large truck to block a highway in El Masnou near Barcelona, painted 'general strike' on a road sign, and put up a banner reading 'Not one step back'.

"Today is a day of ­democratic, civic and dignified protest. Don't let yourselves be ­carried away by provocations. The world has seen that we are peaceful people," Mr ­Puigdemont said on Twitter.

With 95pc of the vote ­counted, authorities said the 'Yes' vote stood at 90.1pc, on a turnout of 2.26 million of 5.34 million registered voters.

The Catalan government said almost 900 people were injured when Spanish police forcibly tried to close polling stations.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has defended the action.

Irish Independent

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