Thousands took to the streets in Barcelona Thursday to protest the arrest of major politicians in the Catalonian region of Spain. The arrests and protests are happening in the run-up for the Catalonian referendum on independence which will take place October 1st. The region, which occupies the country’s Northeast corner, is the nation’s wealthiest region and is concerned over the federal government’s usage and returns of their taxes.
The Spanish government has long felt threatened by the ongoing independence movement, granting small bits of autonomy to the region to keep it placated. But as the vote neared, the government began to crack down, fearing the loss of one of the most important economic regions.
The government organised police raids in warehouses throughout Catalonia in an attempt to find and seize any documents related to the upcoming vote.
The raids culminated on September 20 with the seizing of 10 million election ballot papers and the arrest of 12 major figures of the Catalonian independence movement.
In response to the arrests, thousands of people turned out at the behest of the Catalan National Assembly, gathering in front of the region’s justice tribunal to protest the leaders being arranged.
While the protests initially remained peaceful, scuffles soon ensued, with many protesters vowing to stay as long as needed. Assembly President Jordi Sanchez said, “We will be here, peacefully but present, until all of the arrested walk out free.”
As NPR’s Lauren Frayer reports from Madrid, the protests then took a violent turn as the day went on. “It started peacefully, with some 40,000 protesters singing the Catalan national anthem outside a government building raided by Spanish Civil Guards. But clashes broke out overnight,” she said. “Police cars were vandalized and Civil Guards trapped for hours inside a building.
The protests have drawn an even larger spotlight on the vote to come, with the prime minister of Spain warning Catalonia of “greater harm” if the referendum is carried out. The Constitutional Court says it will impose daily fines of thousands of euros on individuals helping oversee the vote, the AP writes.
Despite these threats, arrests and loss of voting material, the vice president of the region Oriol Junqueras has vowed the vote to go ahead, acknowledging that the crackdown had disrupted the referendum plans. “It’s evident that we won’t be able to vote like we have done in the past,” Junqueras told broadcaster TV3. Even so, he remained confident there will be a large turnout of Catalans on Oct. 1—whatever form the vote takes. Pro-independence leaders have insisted the ballot will go ahead despite the obstacles.
Recent polls have shown that before these events, around 41% of the 5.5 million voters support the move toward independence. However given the ever more intense Spanish response, one hopes that this movement does not turn into more violence. Hopefully, for the good of the people in this region and Spain on the whole, these events will play out peacefully and avoid reenacting the violent independence movements that have plagued Catalonia in the past.