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Catalonia holds general strike in protest over referendum violence

Train and flights services could be suspended, during a strike, to condemn the violent police response during the independence voting

3 October 2017, 10:12am
Spanish Civil Guard officer pushes a man outside a polling station for the banned independence referendum in Sant Julia de Ramis, Spain on 1 October (Photo: the National)
Spanish Civil Guard officer pushes a man outside a polling station for the banned independence referendum in Sant Julia de Ramis, Spain on 1 October (Photo: the National)
Great numbers of Catalans are expected to see a general strike on Tuesday, to condemn police violence at a banned weekend referendum on independence, as pressure increases for Madrid, to resolve its worst political crisis in decades.

Train and flight services could be suspended as well as port operations, after unions called for the strike, in order to “vigorously condemn” the police response to the poll, in which Catalonia’s leader said 90% of voters had backed independence from Spain.

Public universities in Barcelona are also expected to join the strike, as is the contemporary art museum and the Sagrada Familia, the basilica designed by Antoni Gaudi and one of the city’s most popular tourist sites.

FC Barcelona said it would take part in the strike, adding that it would close its headquarters and that none of its professional or youth teams would train.

“I am convinced that this strike will be widely followed,” the Catalan leader, Carles Puigdemont, said before the protest.

Jordi Cuixart, the leader of the pro-independence group Òmnium Cultural, said on Monday that a general strike was “the best response the Catalan people can make to the attacks on us yesterday and in recent weeks”.

At least 893 people and 33 police officers were reported to have been hurt on Sunday following the storming of riot police in polling stations, dragging out voters and firing rubber bullets into crowds.

Violent scenes played out in towns and cities across the region as riot police moved in to stop people from casting their ballots.

The European parliament will hold a special debate on Wednesday on the issue.

“We call on all relevant players to now move very swiftly from confrontation to dialogue. Violence can never be an instrument in politics,” the European commission spokesman, Margaritis Schinas, said, breaking weeks of virtual EU silence on the Catalan issue.

 

In Barcelona, municipal police said about 15,000 people had stopped traffic as they rallied, many draped in the blue, yellow and red Estelada flag used by Catalan separatists, shouting: “The streets will always be ours.”

“This was the norm under Franco,” the crowd chanted, referring to the former dictator Francisco Franco, whose 1939-75 regime repressed Catalan language and culture.

Puigdemont has appealed for international mediation to help solve the crisis and called for police deployed to Catalonia from other parts of Spain for the vote to be removed.

The regional government said 2.26 million people had taken part in the poll, or just over 42% of the electorate.

But any attempt to unilaterally declare independence is likely to be opposed not just by Madrid but also a large section of the Catalan population, a region of 7.5 million people that is deeply split on the issue.

Puigdemont has said he will now present the results to the region’s parliament, where separatist lawmakers hold a majority, and which has the power to adopt a motion of independence.