By Lucia Suarez Sang
Published October 18, 2019
As darkness descended on the streets of Barcelona, the mostly peaceful protests that paralyzed the Catalan city in northeastern Spain on Friday broke out into chaos and violence.
Pro-independence protesters and police in anti-riot gear clashed in the late afternoon hours, with demonstrators hurling bottles, eggs and paint at the gates of the police headquarters in central Barcelona. Their faces were covered and they used skates and motorbike helmets as shields.
Pro-independence demonstrators swelled again on Monday to protest the jail sentences imposed on nine Catalan separatist leaders and activists who led a push for independence in 2017 that triggered the country’s deepest political crisis in decades.
Videos and photos showed protesters lighting up barricades on fire as night began to fall. Police said three people have been arrested.
Ten of thousands of demonstrators waving pro-independence flags and chanting “freedom for political prisoners” poured into Barcelona for the fifth day of protests over the jailing of Catalan separatist leaders.
Picketers closed off roads to traffic with the border with France across the Pyrenees and burned tires or blocked dozens of roads and highways across the northern Spanish region. Commuter and long-distance train services were reduced significantly, and many shops and factories didn’t even open for business.
Tourists were thrown into disarray as at least two large cruise operators diverted their ships to other ports and the famous Sagrada Familia basilica closed its doors due to more than a reported 4,000 protesters blocking any access to the grounds.
“We hope the situation will return to normal as quickly as possible,” the Catholic basilica, designed by architect Antoni Gaudi, said on Twitter.
Naoya Suzuki, a 34-year-old tourist from Japan, complained about the disruptions to "people who have nothing to do with Spain."
"I've had a look at the news and I can just about understand why they are angry, but not why are they are doing all this and stopping the sightseeing of tourists," he said.
Spanish central authorities said that at least 57 flights into and out of the region were canceled for the day due to a general strike called by pro-independence unions.
More than 200 people have been arrested since protests began earlier this week. Health authorities in the region said that 42 people were injured Thursday night, most of them in Barcelona and the regional police arrested 16 protests, sending eight to jail, according to Spain’s Interior Minister.
The interim prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, said authorities will prosecute radicals who rioted this week while ensuring that peaceful protests can continue without incidents.
"The rule is clear," Sánchez told a press conference in Brussels, where he was attending a European Union summit. "Those who break the law have to answer for their deeds sooner or later."
The Spanish soccer federation said in a statement that the match between Barcelona FC and rivals Real Madrid – known as “El Clasico” – has been postponed from the previously scheduled Oct. 26. Initially, the federation had requested the match be moved to the Spanish capital, but Barcelona denied the request.
Both teams have proposed moving the game to Dec. 18.
Former Catalan leader, Carles Puigdemont, on Friday, avoided arrest after he voluntarily testified before Belgian judicial authorities over a new warrant that Spain issued this week following the sentences.
Spain is seeking Puigdemont on possible charges of sedition and misuse of public funds after previously failing to secure his extradition from Germany and Belgium on suspicion of rebellion.
The Catalan regional security minister on Friday said that the recent violence didn't represent the wider and peaceful separatist movement.
"The images that we are seeing in Barcelona and other Catalan towns don't match the civilized and peaceful mobilization that we have seen in the past few years," Miquel Buch said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.