Police and Protesters Clash for Catalan Referendum Anniversary

Riot police charged in to break up a demonstration in front of Catalonia’s regional parliament on Monday, after thousands marched in Barcelona to mark the first anniversary of an ill-fated independence referendum to split from Spain, Reuters reports.

More than 180 thousand demonstrators marched.

The Catalan police used batons to control protesters after some waving yellow, red and blue separatist flags and chanting, “Oct. 1, no forgiving, no forgetting,” surrounded the regional parliament and displayed posters reading “Republic under construction.”

Catalonia held a vote on Oct. 1, 2017, and its separatist government declared independence on Oct. 27, but Spain’s constitutional court deemed the referendum illegal and Madrid imposed direct rule.

At the time, there were ugly scenes on the streets as Spanish police tried to prevent people from going to the polls.

Polls in Catalonia show a relatively even split between those who favor remaining in Spain and those wanting to secede. Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has said that he favors dialog on the region’s future, but has ruled out any moves toward independence.

The anniversary protests were organised by the Committees for the Defense of the Republic (CDRs), which are demanding a break with the Spanish state. The CDRs briefly blocked the rail service between Barcelona and Figueres, as well as city streets in Lleida and Barcelona, and the motorway between the coastal city and the Spanish capital, Madrid.

CDR groups also demonstrated in cities around the world, including in London and Paris.

Pau Benito, a 22-year-old medical student attending the protest with friends, said that he supports leaving Spain, but thinks the independence movement must be careful not to alienate other Catalans.

“Half of Catalonia doesn’t support independence. In the same way we are asking for better treatment from Spain, we also need to respect those who don’t agree with us,” he said.