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Police arrest Catalan separatists seething at Spanish PM visit

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By Reuters
Police arrest Catalan separatists seething at Spanish PM visit
People raise hands as they attend a protest against Spain's cabinet meeting, in Barcelona, Spain, December 21, 2018. REUTERS/Albert Gea   -   Copyright  ALBERT GEA(Reuters)

By Sam Edwards

BARCELONA (Reuters) – Police dragged Catalan separatists off roads and arrested 11 during protests on Friday as Spain’s government brought a cabinet meeting to regional capital Barcelona in both a show of central power and attempt at negotiation.

Secession supporters used tyres and rubbish to barricade highways from before dawn, and thronged the streets of Barcelona in their thousands waving red-and-yellow Catalan flags.

Some set off flares and burned an image of Spain’s King Felipe VI, while police scuffled with masked youths in chaotic scenes that emergency services said injured 32 people lightly.

Protester Joan Toll lamented lack of progress after an illegal referendum and self-declaration of independence in 2017.

“If you think about what has happened in the last year, we have achieved nothing. We are only being repressed more,” said Toll, a 44-year-old chemist.

“No one wants to see violence but people are getting tired.”

Sanchez’s decision to convene his cabinet in Barcelona for the first time since the crisis began underlined Madrid’s opposition to full independence for the prosperous northeastern region of 7.5 million people.

But it could also help him secure the survival of his minority government with the aid of Catalonian pro-independence parties in return for some more autonomy.


Sanchez, who has been trying to get voters on his side ahead of a spate of polls in the next two years, decreed a 22 percent minimum wage rise, the biggest in four decades.

His Socialist party controls only a quarter of seats in parliament and will need all the support he can muster to pass next year’s budget, to be presented in January.

On Thursday, Sanchez met Catalonia’s pro-independence regional government head Quim Torra. The pair agreed to a deeper dialogue despite their “notable differences.”

Friday’s protests were patrolled by Catalonia’s local police force, unlike last year’s illegal referendum when national officers’ use of batons and rubber bullets caused an outcry.

Meeting at a 14th century building on Barcelona’s historic sea front, the cabinet approved a handful of symbolic measures for the region, including renaming an airport for Josep Tarradellas, Catalonia’s first president after the end of Spain’s dictatorship in the 1970s.

It also took steps to overturn a dictatorship-period trial which led to the execution of former Catalan leader Lluis Companys by firing squad in 1940, and freed up over 100 million euros in investment for regional infrastructure.

Four jailed Catalan leaders ended a hunger strike on the eve of Sanchez’s visit and their party vowed to back his broad plan for the national budget in 2019 and 2020.

Failure to approve the budget could topple the government, raising the possibility of a right-of-centre administration with stronger centralist preferences coming to power – a risk some Catalan politicians would prefer to avoid.

(Writing by Sonya Dowsett; Editing by Andrei Khalip and Andrew Cawthorne)