Demonstrators have taken to the streets of Barcelona to protest against the Spanish government’s decision to hold a cabinet meeting in the Catalan capital on the first anniversary of the snap election called following the regional government’s unilateral independence declaration.
Parts of the city were in lockdown on Friday morning, while elsewhere in Catalonia more than 20 roads were blocked by members of the direct-action Committees for the Defence of the Republic with the aim of cutting off all access to Barcelona.
Police did little to intervene in what became a game of cat and mouse as the protesters abandoned roadblocks only to re-establish them elsewhere.
Thousands of police were on duty to cordon off the area around La Lotja de Mar, the old stock exchange building, where the ministers were meeting.
Via Laietana, one of the approaches to La Lotja and one of the city’s principal arteries, was deserted except for riot police, demonstrators and a few brave souls taking their children to school.
Many schools closed on what is the last day of term and were forced to abandon their Christmas parties.
One protester was arrested on Via Laietana for being in possession of the inflammable materials, according to police. A solitary woman who seemed the worse for drink waved a Spanish flag and shouted “Viva España!” to which the crowd responded chanting: “Alcohol, alcohol, let’s get drunk.”
In the Drassanes area of the city, near the old port, police baton-charged demonstrators after they began throwing crash barriers at police lines.
An influential grassroots independence movement, the Catalan National Assembly, has called a large-scale protest for 6pm on Friday.
The protests took place hours after the Spanish prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, and the Catalan president, Quim Torra, met and agreed to hold talks to find a solution to the impasse over independence.
In a joint statement, Sánchez and Torra agreed that a conflict existed over the future of Catalonia, adding: “Despite the significant differences over its origin, nature and the means of resolving it, [we] share, above all, a commitment to effective dialogue to bring about a political proposal that is widely supported by Catalan society.”
Following Thursday’s meeting, it was announced that the city’s El Prat airport is to be renamed Josep Tarradellas after the politician who facilitated the transition to democracy in Catalonia at the end of the Franco dictatorship.