For a fifth night street protests in Spain on Saturday turned violent following the arrest of Pablo Hasél, a popular rapper, which has triggered a national debate on freedom of expression. But the disturbances have also strained relations inside the country's fragile coalition government.
Police in the northeastern region of Catalonia, which has seen most of this week's rioting, said some protesters pelted officers with bottles, stones, fireworks, and paint in Barcelona and at least three other places. Other protesters set fire to large street bins and used them to block streets.
In downtown Barcelona, some people broke into two bank branches and tried to set a fire inside, while others vandalized and ransacked shops, police said. In Girona, another Catalan city, protesters smashed the windows of three banks.
The pitched battles raged hours after Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said the violence is inadmissible, in comments that accentuated a rift with his coalition government’s junior partner.
In impromptu remarks at the start of a speech about the economy, Sánchez addressed the consecutive nights of rioting this week that have ignited a heated debate over the limits of free speech in Spain and a political storm over the use of violence by both the rapper’s supporters and the police.
Violence is an attack on democracy, Sánchez said, and the government will take a stand against any form of violence to ensure people’s safety.
Interior minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska also stepped into the row, thanking police for their efforts and saying they would continue to guarantee the rights and freedoms of all society against a minority whose misguided idea of rights makes them have recourse to violence.
Some 80 people, including three on Friday night, had been arrested and more than 100 injured since rapper Hasél was arrested earlier this week and began to serve a 9-month prison sentence after his conviction for insulting the Spanish monarchy and praising terrorist violence.
Sánchez and Grande-Marlaska belong to the Socialist party, which heads the coalition government. Senior members of the coalition’s junior partner, the far-left United We Can (Unidas Podemos) party, have spoken out in support of the protesters and criticized police after a protester lost an eye, allegedly due to a foam bullet fired by riot police.
On Thursday, the party filed a petition for a total pardon for Hasél and another rapper, Valtònyc, who fled to Belgium in 2018 to avoid trial on charges of glorifying terrorism.
Many people, including artists, celebrities and politicians, have expressed support for a change in the country’s so-called Gag Law covering freedom of expression.