AFTER a few quiet evenings on the streets of Barcelona, protests and riots over the arrest of rapper Pablo Hasel returned with a vengeance at the weekend.
More than 4,000 people demonstrated against Hasel’s imprisonment and in favour of freedom of speech on Saturday night, the 12th march since his arrest on February 16.
The protest was expanded to include a wide range of other issues, such as the right to affordable housing, the imprisonment of Catalan separatist leaders, and calls to cancel the highly controversial ley mordaza – or ‘gagging law’ – and current labour legislation, both of which the PSOE/Podemos executive had vowed to repeal upon entering government.
However, the peaceful protest and legitimate demands were totally overshadowed by the violence that erupted after the march.
Rioters smashed the windows of half a dozen banks, vandalised a hotel and looted several shops, while the police refrained from firing foam bullets given the ongoing political argument over their use.
But by far the worst incident was yet to come. Television cameras and witnesses were shocked to record an attack on a Guardia Urbana police van, which was firebombed and set alight with an officer inside.
Although the policeman was able to escape unhurt, the footage has sent shockwaves through Catalan and Spanish society, prompting unanimous condemnation from every quarter.
For the first time, the anti-capitalist CUP party openly came out against the riots, describing the assault as ‘a line that cannot be crossed’.
Up to 14 people were arrested, with the regional Mossos d’Esquadra police force revealing that the violence was caused by an estimated 300 rioters who acted in co-ordinated groups on the fringes of the main demonstration.
A meeting was scheduled between the Catalan government and affected local councils for today (Monday March 1) to try and find a solution, as other major cities including Girona, Lleida, Tarragona, Vic and Sabadell have also seen an escalation in vandalism.
Meanwhile, business owners are calling for stricter measures to end the ongoing destruction of their property.