Masses of flag-waving demonstrators demanding Catalonia’s independence and the release from prison of separatist leaders on Friday jammed downtown Barcelona as the northeastern Spanish region endured its fifth straight night of unrest.
Chaotic scenes of violence erupted after more than half a million protesters, including families with children, marched in the Catalan capital, local police said.
Many people were clad in pro-independence Estelada flags and shouted “Independence!” and “Freedom for political prisoners!”
Some of them had walked for three days in five massive “freedom marches” from towns across the northeastern Spanish region. They converged on Barcelona, a city of 1.6 million people, and joined students and workers who also took to the streets during a 24-hour general strike.
At night, police resorted again to rubber bullets and, for the first time this week, to tear gas and water cannons to repel masked youths hurling cobblestones and flammable bottles, building barricades and setting dozens of bonfires in large garbage bins.
About 400 people, roughly half of them police officers, have been injured according to regional and central authorities, and 128 have been arrested since separatist sentiment surged on Monday, when the Supreme Court sentenced to lengthy prison terms nine separatist politicians and activists.
The nine had led a 2017 push for independence that triggered Spain’s deepest political crisis in decades.
On Friday, the huge displays of support were mostly peaceful, but protesters and police battled over the control of Barcelona’s center after protesters circled the gates of the national police’s headquarters.
As clashes with police escalated, the chaos spread to other areas of the Catalan capital.
Albert Ramon, a 43-year-old public servant joining one of the rallies in the northern city of Girona, said the convictions — including fines for three more separatists — had soured the political climate.
“These verdicts violate fundamental rights and hence people are reacting,” Ramon said.
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