Police charges against demonstrators in Barcelona and Lleida “to clean up the squares” but protesters set up camps again

Catalan and Barcelona Police tried to remove protesters from Barcelona’s Catalunya Square to facilitate the work of cleaners to dismantle the camp. The official reason was to prevent violent action on Saturday night if FC Barcelona wins the Champions League. After the resistance offered by some protesters, riot police charged violently causing more than 120 injured and the indignation of protesters, many civil society organisations and opposition parties. The Catalan Minister for Home Affairs accepted responsibility and stated that police were following orders. Protesters took the square back and set up the camp again. A similar operation took place in Lleida.

CNA / Gaspar Pericay Coll

May 28, 2011 01:00 AM

Barcelona (ACN).- The action of Catalan Police to dismantle Barcelona’s protest camp on Catalunya Square saw violence that lasted all Friday morning. Riot police charged violently on three occasions, as protesters refused being removed from the square and impeded cleaners dismantling the camp and having their possessions confiscated. The two official reasons stated by Police were, firstly, that after 12 days of camping hygiene risks forced a clean up of the square and, secondly, that traditionally FC Barcelona’s victories are held next to Catalunya Square and thus, if Barça won the Champions League on Saturday, both mass events could converge. Police and demonstrators clashed, causing more than 120 injured people. After almost seven hours of tension, with images of police abussive use of force, and the removal of the camp, protesters reconvened in the square and set up the camp again. On Friday evening, thousands of people gathered in Catalunya Square to show their support to the protests, which appear to be even stronger than a day earlier. A wave of criticism coming from all sides of Catalan society condemned the action of the police against a democratic and peaceful demonstration; civil society organisations such as the Barcelona Lawyers Bar, the Catalan media, and all the opposition parties criticised the use of force by police. An explanation from the Catalan Government has been demanded. The Catalan Minister for Home Affairs, Felip Puig, held a press conference at 17.30 in which he accepted all responsibility for the action and stated he “would order it again”. The Catalan Police union criticised the operation held in the morning; from the 120 injured people, 37 are police members.

Minutes before 7am, around 300 members of the Catalan Riot Police, together with 90 officers from Barcelona’s Local Police, showed up in Plaça Catalunya, in Barcelona’s downtown, where the #Spanishrevolution protesters have been camping for 12 days. Around 500 people were sleeping in the square. Police asked them to temporarily leave the square to dismantle the camp in order to clean the space. Some 150 protesters decided to leave but the others remained. Those staying were reminding that the camp space was being managed by demonstrators, who had created a cleaning service. The police surrounded the square and impeded access to people. They then helped Barcelona municipal cleaners dismantle the camp, who took away everything from tents, banners, food, to fridges and computers. Tension increased and more people began to congregate in the camp area to support the protest.

When the first cleaning trucks were leaving the square full of camp materials, protesters blocked them by sitting on the road. It was 9am. The first clashes between protesters and police took place. Police started charging and hitting demonstrators. All morning, the number of protesters grew and raised their tone, while police became more anxious. On some occasions they were completely surrounded by demonstrators. The Catalan Police explained that a minority of violent protesters provoked and attacked them, a version denied by many people present. Up to three times, the Catalan Police charged violently against demonstrators, who denounced the use of rubber balls and plastic bullets. Images of police hitting pacific demonstrators caused indignation. Attempts of mediation and creating zones to hold the protest while cleaning was being undertaken failed with Catalunya Square turning in a battlefield.

Around 13.30, after more than 120 injuries and having removed almost all the camp, police started their retreat in Catalunya Square. 35 trucks had removed 500 cubic metres of possessions, which will be recuperated from Monday onwards. According to the Medical Emergency Services, many of the injured are not severe but two had to be transferred to a hospital. Out of the 121 injured people, 37 are police members. In addition, the Journalists Association of Catalonia denounced that two press professionals had been hit by police despite wearing indicative fluorescent vests.

On the other side of the city, university students left their faculty buildings in the Diagonal Campus and cut traffic on one of the city’s main thoroughfares for more than three hours. This action created a huge traffic jam, which despite diverting vehicles did return to normal for more than six hours. Students finally marched on the streets and joined Plaça Catalunya’s protest in the evening.

A parallel action in Lleida

Also in the early morning, 40 Catalan Riot Police tried to remove protesters from the camp on Lleida’s Ricard Vinyas Square in order for it to be cleaned up. Ricard Vinyas Square is also where Barça supporters in Lleida celebrate their team’s victory. Protesters and police clashed and two people were detained. Demontrators decided to leave the square and congregated in front of the police station where the two people had been transferred. Meanwhile, the camp was dismantled by the cleaners. However, protesters returned to the square and re-built the camp. In the evening, Lleida lived one of the most crowded demonstrations ever supporting the protesters.

Indignation at the use of force by police

The images of Catalan Police hitting peaceful protesters infuriated many people, organisations and parties. This evening, several hours after the police intervention, Plaça Catalunya is packed with people again, with more protesters than ever before or at least a similar number to last Friday, when the protest reached its peak. People displayed their hands painted in white to emphasise their rejection of violence. They also denounced the violation of their constitutional rights of demonstrating and assembling. Protesters insisted they had not provoked neither attacked the police and they have condemned the use of force. They also asked for the resignation of the Catalan Minister for Home Affairs.

Besides, a broad range of organisations representing a wide sample of Catalan society criticised the police action and backed the democratic right for protest. One of the most significant supporters groups came from Barcelona’s Lawyers Bar, which reminded the need to respect the constitutional right for meeting and demonstrating in a peaceful way. In different degrees and with different arguments, all the opposition political parties criticised the use of force by the police and the assessment of the situation made by the Catalan Ministry of Home Affairs, responsible for security in Catalonia and managing the Catalan Police. All opposition parties asked for explanations from the Minister, and some even asked for his immediate resignation.

The Catalan Minister for Home Affairs stated he would do it again

Felip Puig, the Catalan Minister in charge of the police has accepted full responsibility. Puig stated that police always acted following his orders and emphasised he is the top person responsible of the corps and public security in Catalonia. When asked if knowing the consequences he would have still given the same orders, Puig said yes. He supported the police action, denied it was too heavy handed and said police had been provoked by protesters. The Minister explained that the objective was not the removal of people from the square, but facilitating the work of the cleaners. Puig explained that he had decided to intervene in the square for preventative and hygienic reasons. He said that after 12 days, the public space needed to be cleaned. In addition, he wanted to avoid the risk of potential problems if FC Barcelona win the Champions League on Saturday. Barça supporters traditionally celebrate the team’s victories in Canaletes, on the top of the famous Les Rambles, just next to the spot where the camp is set. These celebrations tend to end with a small minority creating disturbances. Puig said he was fearing larger problems if the celebration mixed with the protest camp, and violent protesters took objects such as metal sticks from the tents or gas cylinders used in the camp’s kitchens. Puig did not discard another intervention on Saturday.