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.”


6 dead after man opens fire in Czech hospital waiting room

Updated 5 min 55 sec ago

6 dead after man opens fire in Czech hospital waiting room

  • The attacker opened fire at people’s heads from close range
  • Police published a photo of the suspect, having withdrawn an earlier photo of a different man
PRAGUE: Six people were killed in a shooting in a hospital in the eastern Czech Republic Tuesday, the prime minister said. Police said the suspect is at large and described him as armed and dangerous.

Prime Minister Andrej Babis told Czech public television the shooting took place around 7 a.m. in a waiting room. The attacker opened fire at people’s heads from close range, Babis said.

He said he was heading for the site, at the University hospital in the eastern city of Ostrava, 350 kilometers (220 miles) east of Prague.

Police said the man left in a silver-grey Renault Laguna car and called on the public not to try to stop him.

Police published a photo of the suspect, having withdrawn an earlier photo of a different man. They said that man was now considered to be a witness.

Video footage and pictures published by public radio showed police arresting a person at the site but that person did not appear to be the shooting suspect.

Officials say people have been evacuated from the clinic. Police are boosting security across the country.