Defying Madrid’s demand to “firmly” keep order, supporters of jailed Catalan pro-independence leaders launched a fresh rally in Barcelona. The protest later turned into scuffles with police and barricades were also set ablaze.
The unrest is gripping the Catalan capital, as well as other cities, for the third consecutive day. The mass rallies were sparked by Spain’s Supreme Court’s Monday ruling that sentenced nine Catalan pro-independence top brass to jail terms between nine and 13 years over their roles in the failed 2017 independence bid.
On Wednesday, the demonstrators were seen throwing hundreds of white paper toilet rolls into the air during the gathering in central Barcelona. The bizarre performance meant “there is a lot that needs cleaning up,” according to the protest organizers.
Riot police were also dispatched to the scene en-masse. Law enforcement officers have been pelted with various projectiles as well, and scuffles between protesters and police have erupted multiple times.
Venting their anger and trying to draw attention to their cause, the protesters also destroyed road signs and set improvised barricades alight.
The police, in turn, repeatedly charged at the protesters with batons drawn, and were also seen shooting at the crowds and in the air with pump-action shotguns and larger-caliber devices. The latter resembled the notorious ‘Flash-Ball’ launchers that left many maimed during the Yellow Vests protests in France.
It was not immediately clear what ammunition the law enforcement used. Several protesters were apparently injured and were seen being led away by their comrades while visibly limping.
More than 200 people have been reported injured over the past two days in Barcelona and other cities throughout Catalonia. On Tuesday, protesters occupied and later clashed with police at Barcelona’s El Prat airport, which led to the cancellation of multiple flights.
The Spanish government blamed “coordinated groups” of protesters for the violence on the streets. Madrid said it “doesn’t rule out any scenario” and vowed to keep the order in Catalonia by any means it sees fit, yet with “firmness and proportionality.”
Such statements might signal that the central government is readying for a widespread crackdown on pro-independence Catalan protesters. The 2017 failed independence referendum was met with an overwhelming police response that left hundreds of people injured.
Chaotic scenes with the police smashing into polling stations, snatching ballot boxes and plainly beating up people partaking in the vote, drew widespread condemnation from international humanitarian groups at the time.