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.”


Somalia struggles after worst flooding in recent history

Updated 29 min 26 sec ago

Somalia struggles after worst flooding in recent history

  • At least 10 people went missing when their boat capsized after the Shabelle river burst its banks
  • More than 250,000 people across Somalia were displaced by the recent severe flooding
MOGADISHU, Somalia: Ahmed Sabrie woke up to find his house half-submerged in fast-rising flood waters.

Frightened and confused, he herded his sleepy family members onto the roof of their home in central Somalia as scores of thousands of people in the town, Beledweyne, scrambled for their lives. Clinging to an electric power pylon by the edge of their roof, the family watched as their possessions were washed away.

“I could hear people, perhaps my neighbors, screaming for help but I could only fight for the survival of my family,” the 38-year-old Sabrie, the father of four, recalled.

As one of his children, unfed, wailed the family waited for more than 10 hours before a passing rescue boat spotted them.

Authorities have not yet said how many people died in the Somalia flooding last month, the country’s worst in recent history and the latest reminder that the Horn of Africa nation must prepare for the extremes expected to come with a changing climate.

At least 10 people went missing when their boat capsized after the Shabelle river burst its banks. Local officials have said at least 22 people in all are presumed dead and that toll could rise.

“This is a catastrophic situation,” Mayor Safiyo Sheikh Ali said. President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, who visited the town and waded through submerged areas, called the devastation “beyond our capacity” and pleaded for more help from aid groups.

With no proper emergency response plan for natural disasters, local rescuers used rickety wooden dhows to reach trapped people while helicopters provided by the United Nations plucked people from rooftops. African Union and Somali forces have joined the rescue operations and the Somali government airlifted food.

“Many people are still trapped in their submerged houses and we have no capacity and enough equipment to cover all areas,” said Abdirashakur Ahmed, a local official helping to coordinate rescue operations. Hundreds are thought to still be stuck.

With more heavy rains and flash flooding expected, officials warned thousands of displaced people against returning too quickly to their homes.

More than 250,000 people across Somalia were displaced by the recent severe flooding, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council.

Beledweyne town was the worst affected. Several thousand people were sheltering under trees or in tents.

“Floods have destroyed more than three-quarters of Beledweyne and submerged many surrounding villages,” said Victor Moses, the NRC’s country director.

Aid groups said farms, infrastructure and roads in some areas were destroyed. The destruction of farmland near rivers is expected to contribute to a hunger crisis.

The possibility of further damage from heavy rains in the coming days remains a concern, according to the International Organization for Migration.

Parts of the Lower Juba, Gedo and Bay regions, where IOM has supported displaced populations for years, have been affected. Many displaced people were stranded without food, latrines or shelter.

“In Baidoa, people have moved to high ground where they are in immediate need of support,” said Nasir Arush, the minister for humanitarian and disaster management for South West State.

Survivors like Sabrie now must struggle to rebuild their lives.

“We’re alive, which I am thankful to Allah for, but this flood disaster wreaked havoc on both our livelihoods and households so I see a tough road ahead of us,” he said from a makeshift shelter built on higher ground outside town.