Thousands of pro-independence protesters angry about Spain’s cabinet holding a meeting in Catalonia have blocked roads across the region and clashed with anti-riot police in its capital. Grassroots separatist groups and unions called the protests to show their disgust at Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s decision to lead his weekly cabinet meeting in Barcelona.
The Catalan regional government, formed by a coalition of pro-secession parties, is also supporting peaceful protests despite an agreement with central authorities to find a way out of the political crisis that has festered since Catalonia’s failed secession attempt last year.
After their encounter on Thursday, the second since both took power earlier this year, Mr Sanchez and Catalan president Quim Torra issued a joint statement calling for dialogue to settle the conflict over the future of the north-eastern region.
That outcome was beyond the low expectations that had been placed before the talks, when disagreement over their scope and format kept officials negotiating until the very last minute.
Mr Sanchez, who inherited the Catalan crisis when he toppled his conservative predecessor in June, made mending relations with the prosperous region one of his priorities. But despite the progress, distrust prevailed.
Security in the prosperous region, normally in the hands of the Catalan police, has been reinforced, with hundreds of anti-riot officers sent by Spain’s national police forces for Friday’s ministers’ meeting.
Spanish television broadcast live Mr. Sanchez’s walk from his hotel to the 14th-century Gothic palace in central Barcelona. It was an attempt to display a sense of normalcy but instead showed the prime minister walking through empty streets heavily guarded by police. Meters away, a crowd of mostly young protesters jeered: “Go away! Go away!”
Police charged to keep them at bay when they moved rubbish bins and tried to break the double security cordon shielding the meeting’s venue.
The regional Mossos d’Esquadra police force said that one of four protesters arrested for public order offences carried material to manufacture Molotov cocktails.
Mr Sanchez, who has been harshly criticized by the right-wing opposition for his meeting with Mr Torra, has presented the meeting in Barcelona as “a way of showing affection to Catalonia”.
The cabinet is expected to rename the Barcelona airport in honor of Josep Tarradellas, who headed the Catalan government in exile during General Francisco Franco’s dictatorship, and raise the country’s monthly minimum wage from 736 Euros (£663) to 900 Euros (£811).
Mr Sanchez, whose minority government controls only a quarter of the national parliament, hopes that the plan’s social spending will make it difficult for Catalan separatist parties to reject his 2019 budget in a vote scheduled for January.