Anniversary protests in Catalonia increase tension among separatists and with Madrid

Protesters sit on the AVE train lines at Girona station.
Protesters sit on the AVE train lines at Girona station. / Reuters
  • Regional president, Quim Torra, gave an ultimatum to the PSOE government to begin talks on a referendum

There was friction among secessionist political allies and renewed calls for tougher action from Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez on Catalonia this week. This follows violent outbursts in the region by separatist supporters marking one year since the illegal independence referendum.

Monday, 1 October, was always expected to be a day of tension in the region. Marches and protests had been arranged throughout Catalonia, many with the help of the Comités de Defensa de la República-CDR, (republican defence committees), radical groups advocating more disruptive action.

Pro-separatist president of the Catalan government, Quim Torra, was widely criticised by all sides after his speech on Monday morning. In it he called for the CDR to "push", adding, "it's good that you are pushing". This comment was taken by some as condoning more violence.

While the call for a general stoppage was widely ignored, there were demonstrations in major towns and transport networks were cut off, including a two-hour sit-in on the tracks at Girona's AVE rail station.

However the most tension came at the end of an evening march when there were coordinated attempts to storm the regional parliament building in Barcelona.

The regional police force, the Mossos d'Esquadra, controlled by the regional government, was criticised for not having enough officers on duty, which they denied. Pro-Spain politicians slammed the protests and the national and regional government's "lack of a firm response".

Puigdemont's doubts

Faced with the level of violence, divisions immediately appeared within the separatists' own political ranks. Carles Puigdemont, self-exiled former president, said from Brussels, "If they are hooded and use violence, they aren't part of 1 October." There was a sense that the day's events had tainted the image of the secessionist movement.

Meanwhile Quim Torra, in an apparent attempt to regain lost face with his republican supporters, gave the national government an ultimatum on Tuesday to begin talks on a binding referendum on self-determination or face losing the support of separatist MPs in keeping the PSOE national government in power.

This was immediately rejected by PM, Pedro Sánchez, and got a lukewarm reception from many inside the independence movement itself who said it had been ill-judged.