Thousands stage protest in favour of Spanish unity after more violent clashes
Tens of thousands of Catalans rallied in support of Spanish unity in a Barcelona counter-demonstration yesterday following another night of violence between police and separatist protesters.
Around 80,000 people flooded the city centre, said police, many of them waving Spanish and Catalan flags, amid growing alarm over the crisis that has brought scenes of unrest to the northern autonomous community.
One poster read in English: "We are Catalonians too, stop this madness!"
The counter-protest came after a larger pro-independence rally of some 350,000 on Saturday, which passed off peacefully. Marchers waved the Estelada flag of Catalan independence and called for the release of the separatist leaders whose sedition convictions sparked the latest uprising.
But after the daytime rally dispersed, a crowd of thousands of hardline separatists clashed with security forces.
Projectiles were fired and barricades set alight as officers charged demonstrators who had amassed outside the headquarters of the Spanish National Police force.
Six people were taken to hospital, according to Catalan emergency services, including a Reuters photographer who was hit in the stomach with a rubber or foam bullet.
As the ranks of the protesters swelled to around 10,000, according to police estimates, tensions spilt over. Footage showed protesters bombarding officers with bottles and plastic balls.
Riot police then charged the protesters in a bid to disperse them. Officers with batons forced their way through the crowd, while demonstrators threw stones and flares.
While anger remains over the sentences of up to 13 years given to nine independence leaders, the events have highlighted the growing divide between the mainstream separatist movement and the hardliners taking to the streets.
With the central government in Madrid, led by Pedro Sánchez, refusing to talk, opinion polls show Catalans almost evenly split on independence, and the path out of the crisis remains unclear.
The Junts per Catalunya group of Quim Torra, the Catalan president, has, while condemning violence, favoured "civil disobedience", while Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, its Leftist coalition partner, prefers dialogue.