Tens of thousands hit Barcelona streets to protest separatist crackdown
Outside the headquarters of pro-independence party Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP), riot police were called to control thousands of mainly young demonstrators who cried “occupation forces out” and “the streets are ours”.
The arrests were carried out by Spain’s Civil Guard rather than the Catalan regional Mossos d’Esquadra force, who received widespread praise for their quick response to a pair of terrorist attacks last month. Police said they staged 22 search operations in total.
Tense scenes ensued outside one of the region’s principal local government buildings, as sit-in protesters impeded the Civil Guard from leaving the scene.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy called for “a return to normality and a return to common sense”.
However, his government’s heavy-handed approach has only stoked the fires of those seeking independence for Catalonia.
“They made a big mistake; we wanted to vote and they declared war,” said president of the influential pro-independence citizens’ organisation, the Catalan National Assembly.
Another leading citizens’ agency, the Federation of Barcelona Neighbours, called on people to take to the streets in defence of Catalonia’s institutions.
“We welcome and celebrate the demonstrations in Barcelona, Catalonia and around Spain. Let’s keep demonstrating, always peacefully,” tweeted Barcelona’s mayor Ada Colau.
“Faced with the authoritarian turn of the state, Barcelona stands by Catalan institutions and defends Catalan self-rule.
“If Rajoy persists with this repressive strategy, he’ll find diverse, pro-Catalan voices more united than ever defending rights and freedom.”
The tensions also spilled into Spanish parliament, when Gabriel Rufian, an MP for left-wing pro-independence party ERC, told Mr Rajoy to keep his “dirty hands off Catalan institutions” before storming out of the chamber with the rest of his party’s representatives.
Catalan president Carles Puigdemont accused the Spanish state of implementing a “de facto state of emergency” and suspending the region’s federal powers by tightening control over Catalan finances.
Spanish police also seized close to 10 million ballot papers (to be used in the referendum) from a warehouse in the town of Bigues, about 30 miles north of Barcelona.
And police scuffled with dozens of pro-secession protesters as they confiscated over 45,000 notifications which were due to be sent to Catalans who had been chosen to staff polling stations.
Madrid has also threatened to arrest local mayors who facilitate the vote.