Senegalese national dies during Catalan Police operation against illegal street trading
In an operation against illegal street vendors, most of whom are from Western Africa and have no legal residence permit, a Senegalese citizen aged 50 died after falling from the third floor of an apartment building in Salou, an important tourist town on the Costa Daurada. According to the Catalan Police – called Mossos d’Esquadra – the victim accidentally died while trying to escape from agents who had just broken into the apartment. When police tore down the front door, the victim tried to escape via the balcony but fell to his death without the agents having even the time to “interact” with him, stated the Mossos Spokesperson. However, the Senegalese community believe the police officers threw the victim off the balcony, killing him. Violent protests erupted immediately, with around 150 Senegalese nationals throwing stones at police and intermittently obstructing the railway which crosses Salou.
Barcelona (ACN).- In an operation against illegal street vendors, most of whom are from Western Africa and have no legal residence permit, a Senegalese citizen aged 50 died after falling from the third floor of an apartment building in Salou, an important tourist town on the Costa Daurada (Southern Catalonia). According to the Catalan Police – called Mossos d’Esquadra – the victim accidentally died while was trying to escape from agents who had just broken into the apartment. When police officers tore down the front door, the victim tried to escape via the balcony but fell to his death without the agents having even the time to “interact” with him, stated the Mossos Spokesperson. However, the Senegalese community in Salou believe the police officers threw the victim off the balcony, causing his death. Violent protests erupted immediately, with around 150 Senegalese nationals throwing stones at police officers and cars. They proceeded to block the railway crossing Salou and train circulation between Portaventura and Cambrils has been intermittently interrupted since noon. In the evening, mediators from the Mossos were still trying to convince the protesters to peacefully abandon their location.
On Tuesday morning, the Mossos d’Esquadra undertook a wide operation against illegal street trading in Salou, which has suffered from this problem for the last few years, particularly along the seafront promenade. Shopkeepers have been protesting as these street sellers do not pay any tax, do not hold a licence and sell much cheaper products that most of the time are counterfeits of international brands. Since this illegal trading is practiced by dozens of people at the same time at the same spot, an improvised market is therefore set up just outside the legal shops, which see their potential customers being attracted by the offers of the street sellers.
This illegal practice is known as ‘top manta’ because the products on sale are showcased on a blanket (called ‘manta’ both in Catalan and Spanish), which is extremely useful to quickly wrap up the merchandise if the police comes. ‘Top manta’ is mostly undertaken by people who are original from Western Africa, in many cases from Senegal but also from Ivory Coast and The Gambia. In many cases these street sellers do not have a residence permit and are therefore illegally living in Catalonia. In addition, they often barely have any money and the ‘top manta’ is their only way of making a living. Therefore, they are in an extremely fragile situation.
When police catch them, their merchandise is confiscated and sometimes they are arrested, and if they are illegal, they are set for deportation. Therefore, despite it being very common to see ‘top manta’ sellers in tourist areas, when the police arrives they escape instantly. On some occasions, local citizens have complained that they have been pushed to the ground by ‘top manta’ sellers trying to escape police. Furthermore, on a few rare occasions, Catalan Police have reported that illegal sellers have also resisted police officers, by insulting them or threatening them by throwing stones, particularly when police are clearly outnumbered.
12 people have been arrested in the police operation
It is in this context that the Catalan Police has undertaken Tuesday’s broad operation against illegal street trading, with the operation involving forceful entry into 3 apartments (with the corresponding judicial warrant). The investigation started in April and aimed to stop the activities of a network that was bringing in and selling counterfeit merchandise. Twelve people have been arrested for ‘top manta’ selling and an additional person for the violent protests of the Senegalese community.
After hearing of the death of a Senegalese national, the news quickly spread among this community and around 150 people gathered at the same spot, visibly angry. They are convinced that the victim was killed by the Catalan Police, being thrown from a third-floor balcony. The Mossos totally rejected this version of events and very soon announced the accidental death of a suspect after officers tore down the door of the apartment he was staying in. At that moment, the victim tried to escape via the balcony and accidentally fell to his death below, said the police version. The Catalan Police stated they “profoundly” regret the accidental death and sent their respects to the victim’s family and friends.
Violent protests after the death of the Senegalese national
The Senegalese community do not believe this version and protesters have been throwing stones and sticks at the police officers. They have also destroyed the windows of several police cars parked in the area. The Mossos’ anti-riot brigade has intervened, throwing foam bullets to disperse the protesters. However, the demonstrators ran towards the train station and have built an improvised barricade with containers on the railway crossing Salou, which connects Tarragona with Castelló. Since noon, regional, long-distance and freight trains have been affected between PortAventura amusement park and Cambrils. The anti-riot brigade had dismantled the first barricade and trains were able to circulate again, but then protesters managed to block the railway once more and train circulation has been intermittently disrupted since then.
Mediators from the Mossos are trying to convince protesters to stop their actions and go home in a peaceful manner. In order to reduce the tension, some police vans have been sent away and Senegal’s Honorary Consul in Barcelona, Clàudia Vila, said she will try to talk to several associations of Senegalese residents and ask them to mediate in the conflict. At the time of writing, the protests were continuing and train circulation was still affected.