Catalonia responds to police violence: 'people are angry, very angry'

After referendum, protesters in Calella march on hotel housing Spanish police, while thousands demonstrate in Barcelona

Like much of Catalonia, the Hotel Vila in Calella was shuttered on Tuesday morning, its rooms empty, its doors locked and a sign reading Hotel Tancat (hotel closed) stuck to a window.

But on Sunday night, hours after the Spanish police’s attempts to halt the Catalan independence referendum exploded into violence, the hotel became another frontline in the skirmishes between locals and Spanish police; a further manifestation of the furious disbelief that has triggered strikes across the region and which brought thousands of people on to the streets of Barcelona and Girona on Tuesday to protest against an unaccustomed brutality.

Calella, a seaside resort town 36 miles north-east of Barcelona, the Catalan capital, has long served as a billet for Spanish police officers who stay there when they are deployed to keep order at large-scale events in the city.

However, the Guardia Civil officers lodged in the Hotel Vila over the weekend soon learned that they were no longer welcome.

At around 10.30 on Sunday night, incensed by the scenes of police brutality in nearby Sant Cebrià de Vallalta and around many parts of Catalonia, a group of local people headed to the hotel chanting: “Out occupation forces!” A video of the protest also shows some people shouting “fascists!” and calling the officers sons of bitches.

A group of officers – some carrying batons – emerged and, despite the intervention of members of the Catalan police force, allegedly attacked the protesters. According to the town’s mayor, 14 people were injured, of whom four were taken to hospital.

“We’ve had Guardia Civil and national police staying here for years before big football matches and nothing’s ever happened,” said one local business owner, who did not wish to be named. “There had never been problems until now. All the bars around here used to be full of them. But now people here are scared.”

By Monday night, the Guardia Civil had left Calella, leading Ramón Cosio, a spokesman for Spain’s main police union, to complain that officers were “fleeing from hotel to hotel; they are like rats who have to hide”.

The Unión de Guardias Civiles went further, saying the “harassment” of its officers in Catalonia was “more like Nazi Germany than what you see in any other country where democracy reigns and rights are guaranteed”.

With Madrid under growing international pressure to resolve its worst political crisis in decades, crowds gathered in Barcelona on Tuesday, chanting “independence”, repeating the cries of “occupying force” and urging Spanish police to leave the region.

Municipal police said about 15,000 people had stopped traffic as they rallied, many draped in the blue, yellow and red Estelada flag used by Catalan separatists, shouting: “The streets will always be ours.”

The protest came as several small labour unions and grassroots pro-independence groups urged workers throughout Catalonia to go on partial or full-day strikes.

Schools and universities were shut and most small businesses were closed after unions called for the stoppage to “vigorously condemn” the police response to the poll, in which Catalonia’s leader said 90% of voters had backed independence from Spain.

Metro stations in Barcelona that are usually busy were deserted as services were cut back sharply, and the Boqueria market was almost empty. Elsewhere, the response to the strike call was patchy. There were no reports of disruptions affecting big industry or Barcelona’s airport.

“People are angry, very angry,” said Josep Llavina, 53, a self-employed worker who had travelled to Barcelona from a nearby town to participate in the protest outside the Catalan headquarters of the Spanish national police.

“They brought violence with them. They have beaten people who were holding their hands up. How can we not be outraged?”

According to Barcelona city hall, some 300,000 people took part in the various demonstrations held in the city. A further 30,000 marched in Girona and there were protests in virtually every Catalan town and village.

Spain’s attorney general insisted the police action to prevent the referendum on Sunday didn’t affect “normal life of citizens” and criticised the Catalan government for “irresponsibly” summoning people to vote in “tumultuous” gatherings.

But the continuing presence of thousands of officers from the Guardia Civil and national police has angered the Catalan government and highlighted tensions with the Mossos d’Esquadra and Catalan firefighters, some of whom formed human barriers to protect voters on Sunday.

While all three police forces were under a judge’s orders to stop the referendum going ahead, several national police and Guardia Civil groups have accused the Mossos of failing to do their duty and demonstrating both “clear disobedience” and an “unacceptable passivity” when it came to halting the vote.

One Guardia Civil association lamented the fact that some Mossos had been involved in “confrontational situations with Guardia Civil officers who were only trying to obey orders”.

It also tweeted a video of an angry encounter between members of the two forces and later wrote: “A lot of people thought that the difference between a guardia civil and a mosso was about salaries. Now they know it’s also about professional dignity.”

A Catalan police union responded to Sunday’s events with a statement reading: “The police are always on the side of the law. But to treat Catalan citizens, in their entirety, as a mass of criminals and act against them with disproportionate violence can also be considered criminal – or seen as a measure of the poor democratic quality of the [Spanish] government”.

Anna Comas, a 54-year-old interior designer who took part in Sunday’s protest in Calella, said she and others had gone to the hotel spontaneously.

“They’d been brutal in Sant Cebrià de Vallalta, where there were old people and kids,” she said. “They came and beat the first people they saw. People were crying over what they did. It was a show of brutality and hate. It was in their eyes.”

Calella, she added, had now had its fill of Spanish police. “We’re used to having them here and there’s never been a problem,” she said. “But now we don’t want to see them here again.”

Another Calellas resident was blunter. “If they come back,” he said, “they’ll get beaten.”


Sam Jones in Calella and Stephen Burgen in Barcelona

The GuardianTramp

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