Europe’s eye on Spain as Catalans hit streets
Protesters blocked roads, public transport slowed to a crawl and FC Barcelona refused to train on Oct. 3 as part of Catalonia general strike over police violence at a banned weekend independence referendum as European leaders focus on the rift.
Schools and some businesses also shut in a dramatic protest bound to further ratchet up feverpitch tensions with Spain’s central government, as Madrid comes under growing international pressure to resolve its worst political crisis in decades. The Port of Barcelona reduced services to a minimum.
Protesters stood on roads and highways across Catalonia, blocking traffic. On the AP7 highway linking Barcelona to France two youths set up a folding table and played chess.
Catalan pro-separatist trade unions, schools and cultural institutions called for the stoppage to “vigorously condemn” the police response to the Sunday poll, in which regional authorities confirmed over 90 people were injured.
Catalonia’s leader said 90 percent of voters backed independence from Spain, but the central government has vowed to stop the wealthy northeastern region - which accounts for a fifth of Spain’s economy - from breaking away, dismissing the poll as a “farce.”
In Barcelona the Metro provided only minimum service and passengers travelled for free, while major tourist sites like the city’s emblematic Sagrada Familia Church were closed.
“It’s a bummer because we’re only here for a few days. But it’s hard to say my vacation is more important than what is happening here,” Karen Healey, 53, from Portland in the United States told AFP outside Gaudi’s Casa Batllo in central Barcelona, also shut for the day.
At the city Sants train station all shops remained open except for the one run by FC Barcelona football club, which issued a statement saying both its professional and youth teams would not train on yesterday.
U.N. rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said he was “very disturbed” by the unrest while EU President Donald Tusk urged Madrid to avoid “further use of violence.”
The European Parliament will hold a special debate today on the issue. EU leaders have called for dialogue to solve the crisis over Catalonia’s banned independence referendum and urged an end to violence in a cautious first reaction to a thorny subject for the bloc.
The government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy held emergency talks after Catalan president Carles Puigdemont declared on Oct. 1 that Catalonia had “won the right to an independent state.”
Puigdemont has appealed for international mediation to help solve the crisis and called for police deployed to Catalonia from other parts of Spain for the vote to be removed.
The regional government said 2.26 million people took part in the poll, or just over 42 percent of the electorate.
“We see how day after day the government of Catalonia is pushing the population to the abyss and inciting rebellion in the streets,” Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido said, adding that his government would take “all measures necessary to stop acts of harassment