Colour revolution: Spanish police battle paint-throwing Catalan separatists in Barcelona

Nearly a year after the Spanish region’s illegal referendum on secession and its residents are still divided by the issue

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 September, 2018, 9:41pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 September, 2018, 9:41pm

Police clashed on Saturday with Catalan separatists in downtown Barcelona as tensions rise before the anniversary of the Spanish region’s illegal referendum on secession that ended in violent raids by security forces.

Separatists tossed and sprayed powdered paint at the local police, filling the air in a thick cloud and covering anti-riot shields, police vans and the pavement on a downtown boulevard in a panoply of bright colours. Some protesters also threw projectiles and engaged with the police line, which used batons to keep them back.

The clashes erupted after local Catalan police intervened to form a barrier when a separatist threw purple paint on a man who was part of another march of people in support of Spanish police demanding a pay rise. Officers used batons to push back the oncoming separatists and keep apart the opposing groups.

“I make a call for calm. This city has always defended that everyone can exercise their rights to free speech,” Barcelona mayor Ada Colau told Catalunya Radio.

More separatists filled a downtown square in Barcelona, many spending the previous night there, to force the regional government to alter the route of the march by the Spanish police supporters. Those who backed the Spanish police instead marched to another square in the city centre.

The march was organised by the police association JUSAPOL, which wants Spain’s two nationwide police forces, the national police and Civil Guard, to be paid as much as Catalonia’s regional police, the Mossos d’Esquadra.

JUSAPOL holds marches in cities across Spain, but Saturday’s march in Barcelona came two days before Catalonia’s separatists plan to mark last year’s referendum on secession that the regional government held despite its prohibition by the nation’s top court.

That October 1 referendum was marred when national police and Civil Guard officers clashed with voters, injuring hundreds.

JUSAPOL spokesman Antonio Vazquez told Catalan television TV3 that while the march’s goal was to demand better salaries, they also wanted to support the national police and Civil Guard officers who had been ordered to dismantle last year’s referendum.

“The national police and Civil Guard agents who acted last year were doing their duty and now they are under pressure and we have to support them,” Vazquez said.

Last year’s police operation that failed to stop the referendum has become a rallying call for Catalonia’s separatists, who argue it is evidence of Spain’s mistreatment of the wealthy region, which enjoys an ample degree of self-rule.

Pro-secession lawmaker Vidal Aragones of the extreme-left CUP party called the police march an “insult to the Catalan people”.

“It is not acceptable,” Aragones said. “They have come here to remember the violence that they employed.”

Two weeks ago police had to intervene to keep apart two separate rallies by Catalan separatists and Spanish unionists in Barcelona, the region’s capital.

Catalonia’s separatist-led government is asking Spain’s central authorities to authorise a binding vote on secession.

Polls and recent elections show that the region’s 7.5 million residents are roughly equally divided by the secession question.