Street protests over the imprisonment of a rapper turned violent for the fourth consecutive night in Spain, as political responses to the disturbances strained relations in the coalition government of the country. Police in the northeastern region of Catalonia, which has witnessed most of this week’s riots, 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 vandalised and ransacked shops, police said. In Girona, another Catalan city, protesters smashed the windows of three banks.
Thousands of people joined the marches, but the violence appeared to come from a smaller group.
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 then three 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”.
Spain interior minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska 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”.
Police arrested 80 odd people, including three on 18 February night. More than 100 have been injured since police arrested rapper Pablo Hasél earlier this week.
The rapper has begun to serve a nine-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 criticised police after a protester lost an eye, allegedly due to a foam bullet fired by riot police.
On 18 February, 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” that curbs freedom of expression.
The government unexpectedly announced last week that it would change the law to scrap prison terms for offences involving freedom of expression. It did not specifically mention Hasél or set a timetable for the changes.