Spanish king rebukes Catalan separatists after day of protests
Thousands protest against police clampdown in Catalonia on day of the referendum
Spanish national police stand outside their hotel as locals protest against their presence in Pineda de Mar, north of Barcelona. Photograph: Albert Gea/Reuters
Spain’s King Felipe issued a stern warning to Catalonia’s pro-independence government on Tuesday, accusing it of “inadmissible disloyalty” to the state’s institutions and of putting at risk the economic and social stability of the entire country.
The king gave his televised address at the end of a day-long strike called by the Catalan government which brought much of the region to a standstill.
With Catalonia’s constitutional crisis deepening in recent days, there was widespread expectation ahead of the king’s address to the nation.
The monarch accused the Catalan government, which staged an independence referendum on Sunday in defiance of the central government and courts, of “systematically” violating democratic laws and of causing a situation of “extreme seriousness”.
He insisted on the rule of law and offered support to those Catalans who feel marginalised by their government.
Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets on Tuesday to protest against Madrid’s clampdown on the referendum.
The nationalist regional administration of Carles Puigdemont urged Catalans to stay away from their workplaces for the day for a “democratic, civic and dignified protest”, in an unprecedented move that reflected the depths of Spain’s territorial crisis.
On Sunday, his government staged an independence vote in defiance of warnings from Madrid that it was illegal. Spanish riot police caused outrage in Catalonia, elsewhere in Spain and abroad as they broke into voting stations, forcibly removed voters and, according to local authorities, left nearly 900 injured.
“This demonstration is not about independence, we’re here because what happened on Sunday was unspeakable,” said Elena Farres, a pro-secession teacher who took part in the strike. She said her parents were in a voting station that police broke into at the weekend.
David Laso, a railway worker who wants independence, also took part. He was unsure about the political situation, but forthright about the Spanish police currently stationed in his region. “I honestly don’t know what’s going to happen, but these people have to leave,” he said.
Laso, Farres and thousands of others gathered in the morning outside the headquarters in Barcelona of the Spanish national police, who stayed inside behind barricades and a cordon of Catalan police.
Protesters chanted some pro-independence slogans, although most chants were aimed at the Spanish police, such as: “We don’t forgive what you’ve done to us” and “This also happened under Franco”, in a reference to the dictator who died in 1975.
Several thousand Spanish security forces were deployed to Catalonia in the build-up to the referendum and on Monday Mr Puigdemont called for them to withdraw from the region, as well as appealing for the European Union’s mediation in the crisis.
Tuesday’s strike was widely observed, with the Catalan government promising to ensure civil servants would be paid despite downing tools for the day. Schools and universities were closed and outside rush hour public transport in Barcelona was shut down. Larger businesses mostly remained open, as did a minority of smaller ones.
In the evening, demonstrators gathered again at different points in central Barcelona.
The Spanish government was deeply critical of the strike.
“It’s a totally politicised strike with a Nazi edge to it,” Rafael Hernando, of the governing Popular Party (PP) said in a radio interview. “All that is happening is that violent crowds are cutting off roads with the aim of paralysing Catalonia and doing as much damage as possible to the economy.”
He added that left-leaning political parties in the independence movement “are hoping that there will be deaths in Catalonia”.
The controversy over the presence of Spanish police in the region intensified as video footage emerged of civil guards being ejected from hotels they were staying in at the coastal town of Calella and then being chased away by locals, because of their allegedly brutal behaviour during the referendum.
The Barcelona attorney general’s office has opened an investigation into the episodes, alleging a hate crime against the police. The same attorney’s office has backed the Spanish police’s actions on Sunday, saying that they do not affect “in any way normal civic co-existence”.
Prime minister Mariano Rajoy posted a message of “total support” to police and civil guards stationed in Catalonia.
Meanwhile, uncertainty reigns regarding the immediate plans of the Catalan government. Mr Puigdemont has said Sunday’s referendum means the region has a mandate to become independent – according to the preliminary result, 90 percent of the 2.2 million votes favoured independence, although most unionists appear to have stayed away.
A referendum law approved recently by the Catalan parliament states that it can issue a declaration of independence 48 hours after definitive results are confirmed. Final results are expected as early as Wednesday.
The European Commission warned Catalonia on Monday that secession would mean leaving the EU and having to reapply for membership.