Thousands protest, strike over Catalonia referendum violence

People demonstrating yesterday against police violence during Sunday's Catalonia independence vote took to the roads and highways, blocking traffic. Schools and some businesses also shut in protest. Many were injured on Sunday after riot police tried
People demonstrating yesterday against police violence during Sunday's Catalonia independence vote took to the roads and highways, blocking traffic. Schools and some businesses also shut in protest. Many were injured on Sunday after riot police tried to disrupt voting.PHOTO: REUTERS

BARCELONA • Tens of thousands of demonstrators blocked roads, public transport slowed to a crawl and FC Barcelona refused to train as Catalonia observed a general strike yesterday over police violence at a banned independence referendum on Sunday.

Schools and some businesses also shut in a dramatic protest bound to further ratchet up fever-pitch tensions with Spain's central government, as Madrid comes under growing international pressure to resolve its worst political crisis in decades.

The Port of Barcelona reduced services to a minimum, and protesters stood on roads and highways across Catalonia, blocking traffic. On the highway linking Barcelona to France, two youths set up a folding table and played chess.

Catalan pro-separatist trade unions, schools and cultural institutions called for the stoppage to "vigorously condemn" the police response to Sunday's vote, in which the regional authorities confirmed over 90 people were injured.

Catalonia's leader said 90 per cent of voters backed independence from Spain, but the central government has vowed to stop the wealthy north-eastern region - which accounts for a fifth of Spain's economy - from breaking away, dismissing the polls as a "farce".

In Barcelona, the Metro train system provided only minimum service and passengers travelled for free, while major tourist sites like the city's emblematic Sagrada Familia Church were closed.

Despite concerns that air traffic might be disrupted too, Barcelona airport was operating as normal, a spokesman said.

At the city train station, all shops remained open except for the one run by FC Barcelona football club, which issued a statement saying both its professional and youth teams would not train yesterday.

An employee of a toy shop in the station said members of the strike committee had asked her to shut the store for the day. She refused because "the store is not mine. Otherwise, I would have shut it - to defend human rights".

Violent scenes played out in towns and cities across Catalonia on Sunday as riot police moved in on polling stations to stop people from casting their ballots.

United Nations rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said he was "very disturbed" by the unrest while European Council president Donald Tusk urged Madrid to avoid "further use of violence".

The European Parliament will hold a debate today on the issue.

But any attempt to unilaterally declare independence is likely to be opposed not just by Madrid, but also a large section of the Catalan population, a region of 7.5 million people that is deeply split on the issue.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 04, 2017, with the headline 'Thousands protest, strike over Catalonia referendum violence'. Print Edition | Subscribe