Rioting raged in Barcelona and several other Catalan towns for a third night, with police fighting running battles with protesters angered by lengthy prison sentences for nine leaders of the region’s drive for independence from Spain.
Tens of thousands of protesters faced off against police in Barcelona. Some set up flaming barricades in the streets, torching cars and bins, chanting: “The streets will always be ours!”
Violence erupted on Monday after Spain’s Supreme Court sentenced nine separatist Catalan leaders to up to 13 years in prison for their part in an October 2017 effort to declare independence for the region.
After a surge in separatist sentiment since the global economic crisis that hit Spain particularly hard, around half of Catalonia’s 7.5 million residents want to break away from Spain and forge a new European country.
The issue has divided families and friends, but demonstrations had largely been peaceful until this week.
Spanish prime minister Pedro Sanchez said the clashes would not provoke him into taking drastic measures in Catalonia, despite calls by rival parties to crack down on the separatist politicians in the region.
Mr Sanchez, who is an interim prime minister while awaiting national elections on November 10, consulted other national political leaders in Madrid during the day about the trouble.
The Spanish government will respond with “firmness, calmness and unity” to the confrontations, he said in a televised address.
He blamed “organised groups of extremists” for the rioting but said he would not be drawn into playing their game of an “ascending spiral of violence”.
The protests followed the pattern of previous days as crowds gathered during the day to block roads and hold marches demanding independence. After sunset, the marches turned ugly.
Police also reported clashes in Girona, a town near the French border, and other places.
The clashes have injured more than 250 people, including police, over the past three days.
On Monday police skirmished for hours to keep protesters from entering Barcelona’s main airport and shutting it down.
An organisation representing Barcelona businesses, called Barcelona Abierta, said the violence had caused “significant losses” and “deeply damaged” its image abroad.
Other protests are scheduled in the coming days as separatists vow no let-up in their secession drive.