BARCELONA, Spain (AP) – Catalan separatists clashed with police on Saturday in downtown Barcelona, with two arrests being made, as tensions increase before the anniversary of the Spanish region’s illegal referendum on secession that ended in violent raids by security forces.
Separatists tossed and sprayed coloured powder at the local police, filling the air in a thick rainbow cloud and covering anti-riot shields, police vans and the pavement on a downtown boulevard in a panoply of bright colours. Some protestors also threw eggs and other projectiles and engaged with the police line, which used baton strikes to keep them back.
The clashes erupted after local Catalan police intervened to form a barrier when a separatist threw purple paint on a man who was part of another march of people in support of Spanish police demanding a pay raise. Officers used batons to push back the oncoming separatists and keep apart the opposing groups.
The Catalan police told The Associated Press that both people were arrested on charges of aggressions against police officers.
There were more confrontations between separatists and local police as the separatists tried to invade Barcelona’s main city square where 3,000 people supporting Spanish police had ended their march.
Separatists shouted “get out of here fascists!” and cried for “independence!” at the Spanish police supporters, who responded by shouting “we will be victorious” and “our cause is just!”
Barcelona mayor Ada Colau issued a plea for peace when the first scuffles broke out.
“I make a call for calm,” Colau told Catalunya Radio. “This city has always defended that everyone can exercise their rights to free speech.”
The pro-police march had originally planned to end in another square home to the regional and municipal government seats, but 6,000 separatists, according to local police, gathered in the square to force regional authorities to alter the march’s route.
The police march was organized by the police association JUSAPOL, which wants Spain’s two nationwide police forces, the national police and Civil Guard, to be paid as much as Catalonia’s regional police.
JUSAPOL holds marches in cities across Spain, but Saturday’s march in Barcelona comes two days before Catalonia’s separatists plan to remember last year’s referendum on secession that the regional government held despite its prohibition by the nation’s top court.
That Oct. 1 referendum was marred when national police and Civil Guard officers clashed with voters, injuring hundreds.
JUSAPOL spokesman Antonio Vazquez told Catalan television TV3 that while the march’s goal was to demand better salaries, they also wanted to support the national police and Civil Guard officers who had been ordered to dismantle last year’s referendum.
“The national police and Civil Guard agents who acted last year were doing their duty and now they are under pressure and we have to support them,” Vazquez said.
Last year’s police operation that failed to stop the referendum has become a rallying call for Catalonia’s separatists, who argue that is evidence of Spain’s mistreatment of the wealthy region that enjoys an ample degree of self-rule.
Pro-secession lawmaker Vidal Aragones of the extreme left CUP party called the police march an “insult to the Catalan people.”
“It is not acceptable,” Aragones said. “They have come here to remember the violence that they employed.”
Two weeks ago police had to intervene to keep apart two separate rallies by Catalan separatists and Spanish unionists in Barcelona, the region’s capital.
Catalonia’s separatist-led government is asking Spain’s central authorities to authorize a binding vote on secession.
Polls and recent elections show that the region’s 7.5 million residents are roughly equally divided by the secession question.
AP video journalist Renata Brito contributed to this report.