King calls for 'unity' amid protests against his presence in Barcelona
No Catalan government members at awards ceremony with Spanish president and monarch
Spain's King Felipe VI has called for "unity" to "emerge strengthened from the crisis" in his speech at the Barcelona New Economy Week's awards ceremony held on Friday morning in the Catalan capital amid protests against the monarch's visit and a heavy police presence.
Highlighting Barcelona's "cosmopolitan" character, Felipe VI stressed the importance of portraying a sense of togetherness "to provide a stable and beneficial environment for companies" – while Spanish president Pedro Sánchez was there, Catalan authorities, however, opted against attending the event due to what they described as an "incendiary" speech following the 2017 independence referendum.
In a speech in both Spanish and Catalan, Felipe VI went on to encourage Spain's business sector to "do things better and together," as well as to tell awardees to "persevere" despite current obstacles.
As for the city of Barcelona itself, the monarch argued that it could and should play a decisive role in the development of new industries, "placing Catalonia and Spain as a whole at the forefront of technology." The Catalan capital "must continue being a place of reference for innovation in southern Europe," said King Felipe.
Protests near venue
As the king and Spanish president attended the New Economy Week awards ceremony held at Barcelona's Estació de França, hundreds demonstrated outside in protests called for by pro-independence groups.
A human chain, organized by the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), was formed from the venue all the way to the Christopher Columbus monument at the bottom of La Rambla with the aim of making it clear that "Catalonia has no king."
At the same time, Committees for the Defense of the Republic (CDR) demonstrators also gathered at Arc de Triomf – initial plans to meet at the crossroads of Carrer del Comerç and Avinguda del Marquès de l'Argentera, even closer to the venue, were foiled by police blocking off the streets.