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Madrid calls on Catalan leaders to denounce violence

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Via Financial Times

The Spanish government has stepped up calls for Catalonia’s pro-independence leaders to denounce violence after a night of clashes between police and protesters in the centre of Barcelona and elsewhere.

The government of Pedro Sánchez, the Spanish prime minister, on Wednesday said that 54 regional police and 18 national police had been injured and that some of the main roads in the centre of Barcelona remained closed because of debris after protesters erected barricades and lit more than 150 bonfires. 

After an initially peaceful mass demonstration outside the Spanish government headquarters in the city on Tuesday evening, masked protesters threw bottles and firecrackers at police and set trash cans on fire. Clashes also took place in the Catalan cities of Tarragona, Girona and Lerida, with some 25 people detained throughout the region.

“A minority is trying to impose violence in Catalonia and break coexistence,” the government said on Wednesday, as it announced that Mr Sánchez would hold emergency meetings with the leaders of the main opposition parties. “The independence movement has to condemn this violence with firmness,” it said.

Quim Torra, the pro-independence president of Catalonia’s regional government, later wrote in a tweet: “All support for mobilisations and massive and peaceful marches. No violence represents us.”

Meritxell Budó, the spokeswoman for the Catalan government, said the violence had been caused by isolated groups, and called on protesters to act peacefully. 

“These images are exactly what they want to present as the reality of the independence movement,” she told Spanish state television on Tuesday night, in comments seemingly aimed at opponents of Catalan separatism. “But the independence movement has never acted in this way.”

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However, Mr Torra’s administration faces the dilemma of reconciling its support for the protests — including a massive effort by demonstrators to block Barcelona airport that resulted in more than 100 cancelled flights on Monday — with its legal duty to uphold public order, which includes responsibility for the Mossos, the regional police force.

The Catalan authority has encouraged protests against the Spanish supreme court’s historic decision this week to give prison sentences of between nine and 13 years to nine separatists leaders for their roles in an illegal 2017 independence referendum and a subsequent unilateral declaration of independence.

The court found the defendants guilty of sedition — leadership of an uprising that undermined the rule of law — and, in some instances, the misuse of public funds. But separatist leaders depict the verdict as a politically-motivated denial of basic rights.

The toughest sentence was for Oriol Junqueras, the deputy head of the Catalan regional government at the time of the 2017 referendum.

Mr Torra and his colleagues appear reluctant to follow their predecessors in breaking Spanish law, and have been warned by Mr Sánchez’s government that Madrid could temporarily take control of the Mossos away from the Catalan administration by activating Spain’s public safety law.

Mr Sánchez’s government has underlined its satisfaction with the Mossos’ response to the protests, even as some demonstrators have accused the police of acting with excessive force. But Pablo Casado, the leader of the centre-right People’s party, demanded on Tuesday night that Mr Sánchez trigger the public security law and take control of the Mossos.

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Ada Colau, Barcelona’s mayor, called for “unanimous rejection” of the violence and urged all relevant institutions to call for calm. “We do not want fires like those of tonight in Barcelona,” she said in a late-night tweet while also indicating her discontent with “unjust prison sentences”. “They are unacceptable and they put the safety of neighbours at risk.”

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