Protests hit Catalonia after referendum

Protests hit Catalonia after referendum
October 03 13:18 2017 Print This Article

Protesters are blocking major roads in Catalonia and there is little public transport because of a general strike.

Catalan trade unions called the strike to show public anger at Spanish police violence that marred the region’s independence referendum on Sunday.

At least 24 protesters’ roadblocks were reported across Catalonia, causing big traffic jams. Barcelona port was at a standstill, union sources said.

However, the city’s El Prat airport and its taxis are operating normally.

Many small businesses across Catalonia have shut for the day. Schools, universities and medical services are also closed or operating at a minimum level.

Mercabarna – Barcelona’s massive wholesale market – was left deserted as some 770 food businesses closed for the day.

The strike was called in protest at “the grave violation of rights and freedoms” seen during Sunday’s ballot. Almost 900 people were hurt as Spanish police tried to prevent voting, in a referendum declared illegal by the Madrid government.

Some police officers were seen firing rubber bullets, storming into polling stations and pulling women by their hair.

Thirty-three police officers were also injured in Sunday’s clashes, Catalan medical officials said.

However, more than 2.2m people reportedly voted in spite of this. The Catalan government says the vote in support of independence was nearly 90%, but official results have not yet been released.

Turnout was relatively low at a reported 42%, potentially weakening the position of Catalan President Carles Puigdemont.

On Monday evening the Spain national football team abandoned a training session after fans booed and whistled at defender Gerard Pique, who has strongly backed the Catalan referendum.

Guardia Civil police mingled among the crowd, as some fans waved Spanish flags and anti-Pique placards.

He plays for FC Barcelona, which announced that it had joined the strike. “None of the professional teams or the youth teams at FC Barcelona will train tomorrow,” the club said on Monday evening.

Catalan rage: Separatism or populism?

It would be wrong to interpret the anger and anguish so palpable in Catalonia right now as an expression of political unity. Catalans are as divided as ever on the question of independence.

What unites them today is a seething fury and resentment at the heavy-handedness of the Spanish government, represented by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, with what Catalans perceive as his Madrid-centric arrogance, brutishness and disregard for the rights of individuals.

This is far less about separatism than populism. Anti-establishment, nationalist sentiment a la Catalana.

Meanwhile, political leaders are trying to find a way forward.

President Puigdemont has said he wants a new understanding with the central government in Madrid, but the Spanish government has warned it could suspend autonomy of the wealthy north-eastern region.

Given the chaotic nature of the vote, the turnout and voting figures should be taken with a pinch of salt, says the BBC’s Tom Burridge in Barcelona.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said the vote made a “mockery” of democracy.

He held talks with Pedro Sánchez, the leader of the main opposition Socialist party, as well as Albert Rivera, the head of the centrist Ciudadanos party, late on Monday.

While the socialist leader urged Mr Rajoy to hold talks with the Catalan president immediately, Mr Rivera said Spain should invoke article 155 of the constitution, in effect suspending Catalonia’s autonomous powers.

Mr Puigdemont has called on the international community to help mediate between the two sides.

However, the European Commission described the crisis as “an internal matter” for Spain, that has to be dealt with in line with the constitutional order.

[BBC]