A week of turmoil in Catalonia: Day by day

Unrest, clashes between police and protesters, and peaceful marches across the country as the independence camp responds to the Catalan Trial sentence

Riot police in front of a fire in a central square in the middle of Barcelona (by Miquel Codolar)
Riot police in front of a fire in a central square in the middle of Barcelona (by Miquel Codolar) / Neil Stokes & Cillian Shields

Neil Stokes & Cillian Shields | Barcelona

October 21, 2019 04:51 PM

When the Spanish Supreme Court announced its verdict on the independence leaders last Monday, sentencing them to between nine and 13 years in prison, a backlash in Catalonia was expected, although few predicted or expected the protests to be so intense, widespread and persistent.

Most nights during the week, the country saw violent clashes between police and protesters, with demonstrators burning barricades throughout Catalonia’s biggest cities and towns. Here we recount the week, day by day, for a summary of how events unfolded. 

Monday - Barcelona airport at standstill after verdict

While the verdict's aftermath saw protests spring up everywhere, by far the largest rejection of the court's decision came at Barcelona airport, which thousands of demonstrators heeding the call of the anonymous Tsunami Democràtic protest group brought to a standstill.

More than a hundred flights had to be canceled that day as thousands of protesters occupied the airport and clashed with police for some 10 hours, while at the same time tens of thousands rallied against the sentences in the center of Barcelona and other cities.

Tuesday - Barricades burn in major Catalan towns

The next day, the focus shifted to the Catalan towns and cities, as civil unrest burst onto the streets of Barcelona, Girona, Tarragona, Lleida, and more, when peaceful pro-independence demonstrations descended into turmoil late in the evening.

Dozens of people were arrested and injured in clashes on the streets that saw Catalan and Spanish police confronted with groups of mostly young protesters, who built barricades, lit them on fire, and threw objects at the riot officers.

Wednesday - President Torra condemns violence: ‘This must stop now’

With Spanish authorities urging pro-independence leaders to distance themselves from "violent attitudes," president Quim Torra insisted "violence does not represent us," on the first day of the Marches for Freedom that saw demonstrators begin making their way to Barcelona.

Yet, that night there was more unrest in the Catalan capital and other major cities, such as Girona and Tarragona, with police firing rubber bullets (which are illegal under Catalan law) and using tear gas to disperse protesters who once more barricaded the streets.

On Wednesday, several three-day marches across the country began from various different Catalan towns and cities. The Marches for Freedom drew participation from hundreds of thousands.

Thursday - Far-right backlash in Barcelona

President Quim Torra addressed the Catalan parliament for the first time since the Supreme Court sentence was released. His proposal for a new referendum was seen with skepticism by his pro-independence allies, while all opposition parties criticized his handling of the crisis, with most urging him to step down from his post.

In the evening, a demonstration of far-right neo-nazis was met with an anti-fascist counter-demonstration in the same square, in the Barcelona neighbourhood of Sarrià. Later, the group of roughly 300 neo-nazis marched to the peaceful protest taking place by Passeig de Gràcia, leading to violent attacks and political outrage at how the group were able to march such a distance unaccompanied by police.

Friday - Worst riots after massive peaceful march 

A general strike on Friday brought over half a million people to the streets of Barcelona, also coinciding with the arrival of the Marches For Freedom to the Catalan capital. 

That night then saw some of the biggest riots in Barcelona of the week, with thousands clashing with police at night in the central areas of Plaça Catalunya and Plaça Urquinaona and their surroundings. A demonstration against police violence began during the day on Via Laietana, in front of the headquarters of the Spanish police, and later clashes descended the situation into chaos.

Police fired rubber bullets at protesters, as well as beat them with batons and threw tear gas at them. For the first time, a water cannon was used by the police, but this was for the purpose of putting out fires, rather than against gathered demonstrators. In all, the Catalan police arrested 54 people during the night, while medical emergencies service treated 182 people across the country.

Saturday - Activists prevent new clashes

On Saturday, the tension began to calm for the first time in the week. Thousands still took to the streets to stage sit-in protests in front of the Spanish police barracks, as rally-goers demanded "freedom for the political prisoners" and also the end of "police repression" against them. The group was then moved to the Arc de Triumf area, and while some police charges were reported, the riots of previous nights were not replicated. Major clashes were prevented by a group of activists that formed a human chain separating demonstrators and police. 

A media observatory group also released details on Saturday that a total of 58 journalists had been injured in the clashes during the week.

Sunday - Spanish president avoids talks with Torra

Sunday saw the seventh night of protests around Catalonia against the sentences handed down to nine independence leaders found guilty of sedition by Spain's Supreme Court. Yet, it was the first night since the protests began that protesters did not clash violently with police.

President Quim Torra tried to call Spain’s acting president Pedro Sánchez on two occasions, but the Socialist executive rejected the Catalan’s attempts at communication, arguing that Torra had to “roundly” reject the violence before talks could take place.

Nevertheless, thousands of people again took to the streets, both in Barcelona and other cities, and while it was the first night for a week without barricades lit on fire and riot officers facing off against protesters, there were six arrests in all and at least three people were injured.

Injuries and arrests in numbers

In total, 593 injuries were reported on the week of turmoil, with 13 people still in hospital. Four people lost an eye, most likely as a result of being struck by rubber bullets fired by police officers. 

Around 200 people were arrested throughout the country, with 104 of those passed through the court already. Of those, 28 have been sent to prison without bail, and 76 have been given freedom but with conditions.