Category Archives: Southwestern Europe – Kingdom of Spain 🇪🇦

Four ‘nabbed’ in fresh Spanish protest.

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Further protests are expected on Saturday with rallies called in Barcelona, Madrid, the northern towns of Pamplona and Logrono and in Majorca.

Four more people were arrested following another night of violent protests over the jailing of a rapper for controversial tweets, police said on Saturday.

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It was the fourth straight night that demonstrators had taken to the streets, although Friday night’s protests only occurred in the northeastern region of Catalonia.

A police spokesman said two people were arrested in Barcelona and another two in the northern city of Girona and that eight officers were injured in the clashes.

Separately, medics said another six people sustained light injuries.

Angry demonstrations first erupted on Tuesday night after police detained rapper Pablo Hasel, 32, who was holed up in a Catalan university to avoid going to jail in a case that has raised concerns about free speech in Spain.

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Worst-hit on Friday was Barcelona, where some 2,000 demonstrators gathered in the evening with the protest soon deteriorating into violence.

Hooded demonstrators hurled stones, firecrackers and bottles at police and torched barricades made of rubbish bins and restaurant chairs. At least one restaurant was also set alight.

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They also smashed up several banks and shops, which suffered looting, police said.

More than 100 people have been arrested since the protests began, 16 of them on Thursday night. Scores of people have been injured, among them many police officers, but also a young woman who lost an eye after being hit by a foam round fired by police.

Split in ruling coalition

Although most of the protests started in Catalonia, where the rapper is from, they have spread to other cities including Madrid, the eastern city of Valencia and Granada in the south.

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Further protests are expected on Saturday with rallies called in Barcelona, Madrid, the northern towns of Pamplona and Logrono and in Majorca.

The clashes have also sparked a political row that has exacerbated a divide within Spain’s leftwing coalition, which groups the Socialists of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and the hard-left Podemos.

While the Socialists have firmly opposed the violence, Podemos’ leadership has backed the protesters.

The party emerged from the anti-austerity “Indignados” protest movement that occupied squares across Spain in 2011. Their position is that the Hasel case exposes Spain’s “democratic shortcomings”.

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Known for his hard-left views, Hasel was handed a nine-month sentence over tweets glorifying terrorism and videos inciting violence. The court ruling said freedom of expression could not be used “as a ‘blank cheque’ to praise the perpetrators of terrorism”.

He was also fined about 30,000 euros ($36,000) for insults, libel and slander for tweets likening former king Juan Carlos I to a mafia boss and accusing police of torturing and killing demonstrators and migrants.

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#Newsworthy

As vote spikes, Catalan separatism loses its rage.

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At the time, about a thousand people massed on Meridiana Avenue, blocking one of Barcelona’s key arteries.

As has happened every night for over a year, dozens of protesters demanding independence from Spain sit down in the middle of a wide Barcelona avenue, bringing traffic to a standstill.

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Though just a handful, they are supporters of Catalonia’s powerful separatist movement which is gearing up for an important regional election on Sunday that could ease a years-long crisis over the thorny question of independence.

The movement, whose two main parties dominate the regional government, has faced a growing crisis since 2017 following a failed bid to break away from Spain.

“Before the pandemic there were more of us but people are tired. There is political disenchantment,” says 70-year-old Amadeu Pallister, who swears he has been at every one of the more than 300 nightly protests held so far on Meridiana Avenue.

“Some politicians are talking about dialogue, about negotiating with Madrid, but we already know you can’t expect anything from Spain, only repression,” he told AFP.

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“The only solution is independence.”

The nightly demonstrations began in October 2019 when Spain’s Supreme Court handed lengthy prison terms to nine Catalan separatist leaders over their role in the 2017 crisis, sparking mass protests, some of them violent.

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At the time, about a thousand people massed on Meridiana Avenue, blocking one of Barcelona’s key arteries.

Laura Borras, “Junts per Catalunya” party (Together For Catalonia) candidate for the up-coming Catalonia regional elections, gives a speech during a campaign meeting in Vic on February 7, 2021. – Regional elections in Spain’s Catalonia will be held on February 14, in a vote that could help settle a years-long separatist crisis. The vote will come more than three years after the region staged a failed bid for independence in 2017 which plunged Spain its worst political crisis in decades. (Photo by Josep LAGO / AFP)

Keeping the independence spirit alive
After a year of nightly protests that only stopped during the months-long coronavirus lockdown last spring, the number of participants has dwindled to just a few dozen, who spread out across the eight lanes of traffic ignoring angry honking from drivers.

“It is just not logical to keep doing this for so long: cutting traffic every day for two hours,” said Vicente Serrano, a 61-year-old human resources manager who lives in the neighbourhood.

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“But because it’s in the Catalan government’s interest to keep this alive, it accepts and encourages it.”

Serrano fears Sunday’s election will return the separatist parties to power.

They’ve ruled this region of 7.8 million people since 2015 but are coming to the polls strongly divided over the question of exactly how to achieve independence.

And the region itself is divided, with a December poll showing 45.1 percent in favour of independence from Spain and 49.9 percent against, with leaders of the two camps routinely attacking each other.

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“In this election, the general tension has given way to internal tension within the independence movement,” says Oriol Bartomeus, a political scientist at the Autonomous University of Barcelona.

The movement is divided into two main currents with the hardline JxC — “Together for Catalonia” — heading the coalition alongside the more moderate ERC, or “Republican Left of Catalonia”.

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JxC has taken a more confrontational approach, pledging a new declaration of independence if it wins while ERC has softened its position, becoming an ally of Spain’s Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez in the national parliament.

Differences to the fore
Ahead of the vote, ERC has accused its rival of not being “realistic”, while JxC argues that ERC’s strategy will lead separatism into a “dead end”.

“The independence movement must decide which direction it’s heading in, whether that of ERC or JxC,” says Bartomeus.

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“These elections will provide the answer.”

The Socialists have high hopes after tapping former health minister Salvador Illa, the public face of Spain’s fight against the pandemic, as their candidate for the top post in Catalonia.

Polls suggest the Socialists could come in the first place but the ERC looks poised to play kingmaker.

“ERC has all the cards in its hands,” said political analyst Josep Ramoneda.

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The party could form a leftist government with the Socialists and far-left party Podemos, or form another separatist government with JxC, he said, even if ERC has repeatedly ruled out any agreement with the Socialists.

“Whichever happens, reality will kick in and slow the separatist drive. And anyone seeking to speed it up as they did in 2017 will end up crashing.”

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#Newsworthy

COVID-19: War in Spain over rising virus curbs.

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But the government there is still expected to announce new restrictions on Monday, according to reports.

Protesters in several Spanish cities clashed with security forces for a second night running, police said Sunday, as exasperation and anger over coronavirus restrictions grow worldwide.

The unrest in Spain came as more European nations started locking down to try and stem a worrying spike in infections on the continent which has registered more than 278,000 deaths since the virus first emerged in China at the end of 2019.

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson became the latest leader to impose a new shutdown in England that starts Thursday for at least a month, following in the steps of Austria, France and Ireland.

“This city will go bust, there will be nothing left of it,” said Roger Stenson, a 73-year-old pensioner in the northern city of Nottingham, echoing widespread concern over the long-lasting impact of another shutdown on people’s livelihoods.

“I fear for the young, like my own grandchildren and great-grandchildren, they’re going to suffer.”

Other countries like Germany and Greece have implemented slightly less restrictive infection-control curbs that nevertheless still involve the closure of bars, restaurants and cultural establishments in what has also caused anguish and resentment.

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Barricades and stones

In Spain, anger spilled onto the streets in sometimes violent fashion overnight Saturday, with looting and vandalism breaking out in some cities on the fringe of protests.

The country has imposed a nationwide nighttime curfew and almost all of Spain’s regions have imposed regional border closures to prevent long-distance travel.

The biggest disturbances were in Madrid where scores of demonstrators chanting “freedom!” torched rubbish bins and set up makeshift barricades on the city’s main thoroughfare, the Gran Via, images on social media showed.

When police moved in to clear the gathering, they were pelted with stones and flares.

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Other cities in the north also experienced unrest, as did Malaga in the south and Barcelona in the northeast.

Police said they arrested 32 people in total.

Italy was also the scene of protests last week.

These are expected to include banning travel between regions, closing shopping centres at the weekend, limiting commercial activity and imposing an earlier nighttime curfew.

Restrictions also led to unrest in Argentina, where riots took place in several jails in Buenos Aires province on Saturday, as prisoners demanded the resumption of visits in the pandemic.

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‘A slap’

The health situation is also deteriorating in the United States, which is gearing up for a major election showdown between President Donald Trump and his Democratic contender Joe Biden on Tuesday.

Already the worst-affected country with 230,556 deaths, it also registered 776 new fatalities on Saturday, the largest number in the world, according to an AFP tally from official sources.

Top government scientist Anthony Fauci told the Washington Post in a interview published on Saturday that the US is “in for a whole lot of hurt.”

“All the stars are aligned in the wrong place,” he added.

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The widely-popular Halloween celebration was a muted affair this year, particularly in Salem, Massachusetts.

The coastal city that infamously held witch trials in the 17th century is a draw for chill-seekers, and while grim reapers, mad scientists and tarot readers still paraded the streets on Saturday, authorities decided to shut down the city at 8 pm to avoid crowds.

“We are discouraging people from coming into Salem on Halloween night, which is so hard for us to do,” said Kate Fox, executive director of Destination Salem, the city’s tourism office.

“We can’t accommodate the crowds and shoulder-to-shoulder crowding that we usually see on a typical Halloween when we’ll have over 50,000 thousand people in the streets.”

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In Germany, the sadness was palpable at the renown Bavarian State Opera House in Munich as it prepared to close.

It is “a slap”, said baritone Michael Nagy, unable to hide his tears.

Director Nikolaus Bachler said he did not understand why public transport and shops were able to keep going while the opera had to close.

“We have a disciplined public. It is possible to master the risks,” said Bachler, whose disappointment has been shared by other colleagues in the entertainment sector.

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Displaced Syrians at risk

The virus has killed at least 1,196,109 people worldwide since the outbreak emerged last December, infecting more than 46 million.

And while hospitals in European countries have sounded the alarm about their ability to treat a rapidly rising number of patients, the situation is even worse in other, poorer parts of the world.

In war-torn northwest Syria, where almost 1.5 million people live in overcrowded camps or shelters, often with poor access to running water, fears are running high.

“They tell us, ‘Don’t go out. Don’t cause overcrowding’. But we live in tents barely half a metre apart,” said Mohammad al-Omar, a father of four, in an informal settlement in Idlib, the country’s last major rebel stronghold.


#Newsworthy