Violent protests in downtown Barcelona during Catalonia’s university strike against budget cuts
Catalan university staff and students protested against the budget cuts, temporary worker lay offs and an increase in university fees. Peaceful demonstrations with thousands of participants were organised in Barcelona, Tarragona, Girona, and Lleida. However, the Barcelona demonstration did not stick to the schedule and split into different protests. A group of students became violent and broke the glass at a bank branch, threw eggs at the stock exchange, burned three containers and one vehicle, and occupied the rectorate at Barcelona University. 500 students concentrated in front of the Mobile World Congress, which is taking place in Barcelona, and police prevented them from breaking in.
Barcelona (ACN).- Thousands of university students and members of staff went on strike on Wednesday and demonstrated throughout Catalonia against budget cuts. Protesters denounced the increase in university fees, the lay off of many temporary staff, and what they consider to be the downgrading of the public university in Catalonia. Crowded demonstrations in Barcelona, Girona, Lleida and Tarragona developed peacefully in the morning; 70,000 people according to organisers and 25,000 according to the city police demonstrated in downtown Barcelona. However, in the Catalan capital, a group of students became violent. They tried to occupy the Barcelona Stock Exchange, they threw eggs and paint balls at the building, they broke the glass doors and furniture of an adjacent bank branch, burned several containers and two vehicles, and occupied the University of Barcelona\u2019s rectorate. Furthermore, around 500 of the protesters marched to the doors of the Mobile World Congress, but Catalan Police blocked them at Plaça Espanya. 12 people were arrested and the Catalan Police charged against protesters on several occasions. The strike had \u201Can uneven impact depending on the picket action that had blocked the access to several campuses\u201D, stated the Catalan Government who manages all public universities in Catalonia. They insisted that most of the centres carried out their activities \u201Cwith regularity\u201D. However, the University Platform to Defend Public Universities (PUDUP), which organised the strike, considered the strike to be \u201Ca success\u201D. The most affected university was the Universitat Autonòma de Barcelona (UAB), which has its campus outside Barcelona, in an isolated area surrounded by fields, forests and villas. In the early morning, UAB\u2019s road and train accesses had been blocked, impeding access to students, teachers and staff. Other universities that have been particularly affected by the strike were: the Universitat de Barcelona (UB), the Universitat Pompeu Fabra (UPF, in Barcelona), and the Universitat de Girona (UdG).
The Catalan Government\u2019s Secretary for Universities and Research, Antoni Castellà, stated that many faculties of the UB (Catalonia\u2019s larger university) functioned \u201Cnormally\u201D, except the Raval campus and the old building in Universitat Square, where the rectorate is located. In fact, students occupied the UB rectorate and, at the end of the afternoon, through an assembly they decided to spend the night inside.
Castellà also defended the Government\u2019s budget cuts in order to reduce the public deficit. Castellà said that in 2012 the Catalan universities\u2019 budget has been \u201Cfrozen\u201D, not reduced. He also stated that \u201Cno university lecturer lay offs have taken place\u201D. The PUDUP, organised the strike, and qualified the previous statement as \u201Cfalse and immoral\u201D. They denounced that many temporary staff, including teachers and researchers, did not have their contracts renewed and that many associated lecturers had their working hours and salary drastically reduced. This kind of lecturers normally work part-time at the university, have another job and do hold a fix position.
Violent action in Barcelona
The Barcelona demonstration developed without any problems during the morning. According to the organisers, 70,000 students, teachers and university staff, and 25,000 according to the city police, demonstrated in the centre of the Catalan capital. However, the demonstration did not follow the exact announced schedule. Towards the end, the demonstration split into different protests. A group of individuals used the occasion to transform an otherwise peaceful demonstration into a violent protest.
They went to the Barcelona Stock Exchange, which is located in the Passeig de Gràcies, and attempted to break in. Catalan Police in riot gear protected the building. Protesters threw eggs and paint balls at police and the trade market building. Minutes later they attacked a bank branch located next door, broke the building\u2019s glass by throwing stones and removed some furniture.
Immediately after, protesters went inside the University of Barcelona rectorate, which is 5 minutes walk from the Stock Exchange. In the neighbouring streets there were police charges and protesters burned several containers, one car and one motorbike. They occupied the historical building and, according to the UB, caused extensive damage. The UB has filed a police complaint \u201Cfor damaging an historic property\u201D and \u201Cputting the safety of university community members\u201D working inside the rectorate at risk.
Furthermore, around 500 people marched towards the doors of the Mobile World Congress, which is currently taking place in Barcelona. The MWC main entrance is located on one side of Espanya Square (Plaça Espanya), on the Montjuïc side. The Catalan Police\u2019s riot forces protected the MWC perimeter and its access points, by blocking Plaça Espanya\u2019s Montjuïc side. Protesters were kept far away from the MWC, but police and protesters fought in Plaça Espanya. Protesters threw objects and police charged against protesters. After one hour of tension, protesters moved from the MWC neighbouring to Les Corts\u2019 police station, where the 12 people arrested during the day were being held. Protesters asked for their release, while Catalan Police in riot gear kept them some metres away from the entrance.
Without violent episodes in the other demonstrations
University students, teachers and other staff demonstrated in the other three Catalan provincial capitals. In Lleida, some 3,000 people took to the streets to protest against the Catalan and Spanish Governments\u2019 budget cuts, which they believe will downgrade the quality of Catalan universities. High school and vocational training students also participated in the Lleida\u2019s protest. In Tarragona, around one thousand university students participated in a street demonstration in the city centre. The protest ended at the Universitat Rovira i Virgili\u2019s rectorate, which was peacefully occupied by the students, where they read several manifestos. Finally, in Girona, more than 500 people demonstrated at the city university campuses, starting in front of the Universitat de Girona\u2019s rectorate. Almost all the Girona protesters were students, with scarce participation from members of university staff.