Clashes erupt in Barcelona as Catalans keep up pressure for split from Spain

Policemen in riot gear clash with protestors in Barcelona, Spain, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019. (AP)
Updated 15 October 2019

Clashes erupt in Barcelona as Catalans keep up pressure for split from Spain

  • Protests follow jailing of separatists on Monday
  • Pro-independence leaders vow to continue campaign

BARCELONA: Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Barcelona and some clashed with police on Tuesday in a second day of protests over the jailing of nine Catalan separatists by the supreme court for their role in a failed 2017 secession bid.
Pro-independence leaders have vowed to keep pushing for a new referendum on secession, saying Monday’s prison sentences strengthened the movement.
Some Barcelona protesters threw cans and flares at riot police, setting fire to cardboard and other trash in some places. They also tried to kick down security barriers set up around the Spanish government headquarters in the city center.
Police charged the demonstrators with batons, after removing protesters blocking motorways and a train station in the region.
Elsewhere, protesters lit candles and chanted “Freedom for political prisoners” in a rally organized by Omnium Cultural organization, whose chairman Jordi Cuixart was convicted on Monday.
Pro-independence labor union confederation IAC announced a general strike in Catalonia on Friday against labor laws which unions say infringe workers’ rights.
Oriol Junqueras was given the longest sentence, of 13 years, for his role in organizing the 2017 referendum, which was ruled illegal. He told Reuters in his first interview after the sentence that it would only galvanize the independence movement.
“We’re not going to stop thinking what we think, ideals can’t be derailed by (jail) sentences,” he said, saying that a new plebiscite was “inevitable.”
The head of the regional government, Quim Torra, defended the mass protests over sentencing he described as unacceptable.
“A new stage begins where we take the initiative and put the implementation of the right to self-determination back in the center” of our proposals, Torra said, urging Madrid to pay heed and start talks to that effect.
Demonstrators had blocked railways on Monday and thousands descended on Barcelona’s international airport, where some clashed with police. An airport spokesman said 110 flights were canceled on Monday and a 45 more were canceled on Tuesday.
All the defendants were acquitted of the gravest charge, rebellion, but the length of the prison terms — which Junqueras said they planned to appeal in a European court — prompted anger in Catalonia.
Two years after the debacle of the first plebiscite, Catalonia’s independence drive still dominates much of Spain’s fractured political debate, and will likely color a national election on Nov. 10, Spain’s fourth in four years.
Acting foreign minister Josep Borrell said of the issue: “Yesterday, today and tomorrow, it remains a political problem that has to be solved.” He called for dialogue within the framework of the constitution.

GREATER AUTONOMY?
But Borrell said the independence movement had ignored those in Catalonia who were not in favor of breaking away from Spain, saying: “This is a totalitarian attitude.” Separatists have repeatedly rejected such comments.
A dialogue could focus on greater autonomy for Catalonia, possibly within a more federal plurinational framework in Spain, said Santi Vila, one of three sentenced leaders who were not sent to prison.
A known critic of the secessionist agenda who had resigned as Catalan government business counselor just before the independence declaration, Vila called for a new election in the region, something regional government head Torra opposes.
“It looks reasonable that when two governments have such a communication problem ... it’s important to ask citizens if the way being taken is correct or not,” said Vila, 46. While he also supports a referendum, he says it should not be about full independence but self-government powers.
Spain’s main parties have consistently refused to hold an independence referendum in Catalonia, although the acting Socialist government says it is open to dialogue on other issues.
Diana Riba, wife of convicted leader Raul Romeva, told Reuters the independence drive would prevail over time.
“This is a very long process but we will see results as we did with the feminist movement, how they grew until becoming massive and achieving the rights that they were seeking,” she said, calling for “everyone to take to the streets.”


UK to deploy military to prevent migrant Channel crossings

The Royal Navy has been deployed as recently as January 2019 in an attempt to reduce the number of refugees and migrants arriving to the UK via the English Channel. (Reuters)
Updated 10 August 2020

UK to deploy military to prevent migrant Channel crossings

  • French parliamentarian called the plans a “political measure” that would not help the situation.
  • Roughly 4,000 people have made the dangerous trip from France to the UK so far this year.

LONDON: The UK has announced it will use the military to prevent migrants entering the country from France via the English Channel, but the plans have drawn criticism from French politicians and rights groups in the UK.

More than 4,000 people have successfully made the crossing so far this year, and many of those have done so in small and overburdened boats.

Responding to the escalating number of people attempting the journey, the Home Office officially requested last week that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) assist the Border Force in its duties.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said her department was “working to make this route unviable” and announced on Sunday the appointment of a former Royal Marine to manage the government’s response to the crossings.

In response to Patel’s request, the MoD announced on Monday that it would send a Royal Air Force plane with spotters on board to assist the Border Force in its operations in the English Channel.

But the issue has caused tension between the UK and France.

The French National Assembly member for Calais, Pierre-Henri Dumont, slammed the decision to use the military to prevent crossings as a useless “political measure.”

He said: “What is the British navy going to do if it sees a small boat? Is it going to shoot the boat? Is it going to enter French waters? It’s a political measure to show some kind of muscle but technically speaking it won’t change anything.”

Paris has also requested that London provides £30 million to fund French efforts to prevent migrants from attempting the dangerous crossing from their side.

Patel’s decision to use the military to prevent Channel crossings has also drawn condemnation from human rights groups.

Bella Sankey, a barrister and director of Detention Action said: “The home secretary’s hysterical plea to the navy is as irresponsible as it is ironic. Pushbacks at sea are unlawful and would threaten human lives.

“No civilised country can even consider this, let alone a country with a tradition of offering sanctuary to those fleeing persecution,” she added.

Migration has long been a hot button issue in British politics, and this will not be the first time authorities have used the military to enforce migration policies.

In January 2019, the Royal Navy sent three ships to the Channel to prevent migrant crossings, saying at the time that the deployment would “help prevent migrants from making the dangerous journey.”