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Police handling of riots in spotlight, how public order is maintained key to government talks

Mossos d'Esquadra unions demand support from interior ministry as debate on operation in Barcelona's Gràcia district continues


22 February 2021 12:36 PM


Guifré Jordan | Barcelona

The Catalan police handling of the riots in protest against the arrest of rapper Pablo Hasel over the last week continues in the spotlight.

The artist's detention after his conviction for some of his lyrics and tweets has sparked six nights of unrest in several cities in Catalonia so far.

Controversial police operation in Gràcia

A 19-year-old woman in Barcelona lost an eye to a foam bullet fired by an officer on Tuesday, during the first night of protests, and on Saturday, the Mossos d'Esquadra police charged into protesters after cornering them on Barcelona's Gran de Gràcia street.

Both events have sparked much criticism among human rights organizations, such as the Irídia group, who said the action in the Gràcia district put people "clearly at risk" because it created crowds – the NGO said some people ended up injured after the police operation.

Meanwhile, the interior minister, Miquel Sàmper, said no injuries were reported due to the incident in Gràcia and added that "only for one minute was a minimal use of force employed."

He added that the Mossos' operation aimed to avoid the vandalism and looting reported in the past few days: "The riots and what we have witnessed this week are not the right to demonstrate."

Yet, not everyone backed the police over Saturday's events – for instance, the man who appointed Sàmper, the former president Quim Torra: "It is unacceptable in a country which we want freedom to express ourselves and demonstrate."

Human rights groups and police unions lobbying in different ways

On Friday, human rights groups Irídia and Amnesty International met with the interior ministry and the Mossos after having requested an independent investigation over the police handling of the riots and better mechanisms to control riot police officers, including making sure that their identification number can be seen at all times. 


  • "The riots and what we have witnessed this week are not the right to demonstrate"

    Miquel Sàmper · Interior minister

This happened the day after Sàmper said authorities had to "urgently" reconsider the way public order is maintained during tense circumstances and acknowledged that people should be able to protest without fearing bodily harm.

Yet, these comments enraged the police unions, whose representatives met with Sàmper and the Mossos leadership.

"The Mossos officers have the feeling that they have been left alone facing incidents that we consider very serious. We are suffering extreme violence," said the union SAP-FEPOL spokesperson, Pere Garcia, referring to the stones, glass bottles, and other objects being thrown at them during the riots.

They demanded the minister provide the necessary tools in order to launch "public order operations with guarantees."

Far-left CUP and government talks

The far-left pro-independence CUP has been very critical of the Mossos police handling of the protests, saying that on Saturday, law enforcement "intended to generate a violent conflict" in Gràcia.

One of their MPs, Carles Riera, said that they were exercising "police provocation" and that the violence from protesters could not be compared to "a shattered eye or the structural violence" of the police.

CUP is, for the third time in a row, the key to Catalonia's governance, because if the two mainstream pro-independence parties, Esquerra and Junts per Catalunya, want to stay in power, they need the anticapitalists' votes.

"We are nowhere near considering entering government now," said Riera in an interview with Ràdio 4 and La 2 on Monday.

The MP expressed that their involvement in Catalonia's institutional stability will depend on agreements towards self-determination, amnesty, a social emergency plan, an antifascist pact and an anti-repressive pact, including a change in the policing model.

CUP has already begun talks with Esquerra and Junts – and those two mainstream forces have also begun conversations with each other –, but the controversial police operations during the riots are by no means helping the parties move towards a deal.


  • Firefighters put out a fire set in a dumpster in Barcelona's Fontana area, in Gràcia district, on Ferbruary 20, 2021 (by Alan Ruiz Terol)

  • Firefighters put out a fire set in a dumpster in Barcelona's Fontana area, in Gràcia district, on Ferbruary 20, 2021 (by Alan Ruiz Terol)