BARCELONA: Catalan pro-independence groups blocked roads and clashed with baton-wielding police on Friday in protests against a Spanish government cabinet meeting in Barcelona which separatists branded a provocation.
The weekly cabinet meeting usually takes place in Madrid but Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s Socialist government decided to hold it in the Catalan capital as part of its efforts to reduce tensions.
It appeared to have the opposite effect in some of streets of the capital of the northeastern region, which last year made a failed attempt to break away from Spain.
AFP reporters saw lines of riot police lashing out with their batons as they charged a crowd of some 200 protesters.
Protesters threw metal barriers and stones at officers and tried to breach a police barrier a few hundred metres (yards) from where the meeting was taking place.
Several thousand other demonstrators gathered peacefully near the city’s Franca rail station. Some held signs reading: “Occupying forces, out.”
Sanchez and the head of Catalonia’s separatist government, Quim Torra, have expressed a commitment to an “effective dialogue” to try to resolve the dispute over the wealthy region’s status within Spain.
The government was aiming to use the cabinet meeting to approve a 22 percent increase in the minimum wage, a pay hike for public workers and announce investments in infrastructure projects in Catalonia.
But the timing of the meeting was delicate: a year to the day after Madrid held snap elections in the region after blocking its move for independence.
“This is a provocation. They have come here to provoke us,” said one demonstrator, textile worker Carles Serra, 45.