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Spanish PM visits Barcelona, criticises regional chief

  • Published at 03:50 pm October 21st, 2019
Catalan
People hold placards reading 'Spain: Sit and Talk' during a demonstration called by 'Tsunami Democratic' in front of the Spanish Government delegations on October 21, 2019 in Barcelona AFP

Barcelona has been hit by seven consecutive nights of sometimes violent protests following the jailing last week of nine Catalan separatists found guilty of sedition over their role in leading a failed 2017 drive for independence

Spain's acting prime minister visited Barcelona on Monday following a week of Catalan separatist unrest, shrugging off calls to meet pro-independence leaders and accusing the regional president of failing in his duty to restore order.

Pedro Sanchez's visit to the regional capital was met by hundreds of peaceful protesters, who sang the Catalan anthem and waved placards urging him to "sit and talk" with the region's pro-seccession government.

Barcelona has been hit by seven consecutive nights of sometimes violent protests following the jailing last week of nine Catalan separatists found guilty of sedition over their role in leading a failed 2017 drive for independence.

Ahead of his visit to meet with security forces and police officers injured in the protests, Sanchez accused Catalonia's regional president Quim Torra of failing in his duty to protect public safety and to ensure a harmonious co-existence between the pro- and anti-independence camps.

In a toughly-worded letter sent early on Monday, Sanchez said Torra had "turned his back" on the security forces and he reiterated his demand that Torra must forcefully condemn the unrest.

Torra said in a statement at the weekend he had always condemned violence and criticized the prime minister for shunning dialogue.

The regional government said Torra had requested a meeting with Sanchez during his visit to Barcelona, but it was not clear if this would happen.

A small crowd of protesters greeted Sanchez as he arrived in Barcelona, blowing horns and yelling as he walked into the national police headquarters, which has been the focal point of much of the recent violence.

The interior ministry said on Sunday that 288 police had been hurt in the clashes and 194 people arrested.

The unrest in Catalonia comes as political parties in Spain gear up for a snap national election on Nov. 10, the second vote this year.

'Disrespect'

The issue of Catalan independence has dominated the country's fractured political debate in recent years and is likely to continue to do so in the run-up to next month's ballot.

Replying to Sanchez's letter on Monday, Torra asked for "dialogue without conditions." His written response, which was released by his office, made no mention of the violence.

Spanish media reported that Torra tried to talk to Sanchez by telephone on both Saturday and Sunday, but was rebuffed.

A spokeswoman for the pro-independence party Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC), which is allied with Torra's group, condemned Sanchez on Monday for not talking directly to the Catalan government.

"Sanchez is refusing dialogue for the umpteenth time. This shows disrespect to the people of Catalonia," Marta Vilalta Torres said.

Separately, Spain's high court said on Monday it had ordered a raid on the office of Gonzalo Boye, the lawyer for Catalonia's ex-president Carles Puigdemont.

Spanish media said the raid was linked to another of the lawyer's client, an alleged drug trafficker, and was not linked to Puigdemont himself.

But Puigdemont, who was head of the Spanish region during its failed 2017 bid to break away from Spain and now lives in self-imposed exile in Belgium, linked the raid to Spain's efforts to extradite him.

"Now that we're dealing with the third European arrest warrant, they try to make @boye_g's work difficult. They will not succeed in doing so," he wrote on Twitter

The raid took place one week after the Spanish Supreme Court issued a European arrest warrant for Puigdemont.

Boye did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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