Written by By Staff Writer
Violent clashes erupted again Saturday in Europe as anti-government protests called for by the Catalan government turned violent in some cities and towns.
Protesters threw stones and stormed police lines during the unrest, bringing major roads in Barcelona to a halt.
Police used pepper spray to disperse the protesters. Video shows officers running for cover as police attempt to clear a street.
The clashes came after government-organized events on Friday — the second anniversary of a failed independence referendum — in Barcelona and other cities were met with mass opposition, with opponents chanting, “Here we are, not gone.”
Protesters in Barcelona carry a sign reading “jodores bruja” (worthy people) to protest the National Police and Interior Ministry security operations and in protest of human rights violations perpetrated by the Spanish government.
Prior to the clashes, a march organized by the Catalan government and using the slogan “The best is yet to come” had more than 300,000 participants in Barcelona, a police official said.
Demonstrators in Barcelona throw stones at a line of police in riot gear. Police responded with pepper spray.
Some protesters also held up signs that read “Before this ends, let’s still be human” and “Jodores bruja” (“worthy people”).
Loudspeakers and loudspeakers were set up at some of the large marches, urging demonstrators to stay peaceful.
On Saturday, some anti-government protesters chanted, “Together, let’s win” and threw stones at officers, prompting some to respond with pepper spray.
Following the clashes, European Union states threatened dialogue with Spain if Madrid helps Catalan leaders disarm.
Estonia’s Foreign Minister Andrus Ansip and Bulgaria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Kristalina Georgieva said they planned to discuss the issue in Brussels.
Georgieva, who served as the head of the EU economic affairs council, told the Council of Europe the governments “do need to start talking again” to find a solution.
The protests — which come six weeks after a general strike — underline the deep political crisis that has gripped Catalonia and the region’s separatists since the vote, which was declared illegal by Spain’s government and an international court of justice.
Speaking in central Barcelona Friday, President Quim Torra and his ministers urged the government to help the region’s banned drive to secede from Spain — which they have vowed to continue, despite Spanish court-ordered civil disobedience.
“We don’t want to go back to the days of censorship,” said Torra, who was only sworn in on February 12. “If the government insists in not listening, I’ll ask Spain’s leaders to come with us to a negotiating table.”
Opposition voices on Friday called for more unity between Catalonia and Spain.
“For too long we’ve simply been part of Spain, just as it was the case in the past,” leader of the Republican Left party Catalan (ERC) Jordi Sanchez said during a march in central Barcelona on Friday.
“The presence of the marchers and the political parties shows that the majority of Catalans want a situation that can achieve a solution, rather than a confrontational solution that generates more violence and engenders more divisions.”
The independence march comes as the anti-government protests have expanded to cities across Spain, sparking a police operation this week to control demonstrators.
Last Wednesday, authorities detained at least three people in a separate demonstration in the northeastern Spanish region.
Authorities criticized the protesters for setting ablaze Spanish flags and national symbols and for defacing roads and public buildings.
Over 250 people were arrested during the operation on Wednesday. About 60 remain in custody. Spanish authorities say the violent actions motivated them to detain suspects.
Torra’s government is pushing for a dialogue with Spanish authorities after criticizing their stance on Catalan independence.
But Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has described the movement as unconstitutional.
Tensions escalated after the regional government’s October 2017 effort to declare independence.
No country recognized the declared independence and Spain’s Supreme Court halted the referendum.
In June, a federal judge ruled that Catalonia’s secession would lead to “irreparable damage.”
In October, hundreds of thousands of Catalans — unionists as well as independence supporters — protested against the central government’s stance.
Hundreds of thousands rally during the October demonstration.