The Catalan rebellion escalated on Tuesday, resulting in a day of "total stoppage" for the Catalan capital, in which Barcelona metro stations were closed, pickets blocked main roads and civil servants walked out on Tuesday in response to a strike called by pro-independence groups as separatist activists took to the streets of Barcelona to press home their demands for independence after winning an referendum on Sunday which despite a violent crackdown by the Spanish government, saw nearly 90% of the vote cast for splitting away from Madrid.
According to Bloomberg, public transport and shops were closed as demonstrators gathered in the center of the Catalan capital to protest the police violence that marked Sunday’s vote and reinforce their demands for a split with Spain. Photographs showed traffic backed up behind protesters on one of the main highways connecting Catalonia with the rest of Spain. Roads are blocked in 48 places in the region, the Spanish traffic agency said.
Regional traffic authorities in Catalonia told The Spain Report on Tuesday morning that more than 50 barricades or protests had blocked roads across the region, including major toll roads and motorways used for commercial traffic to and from France.
Normally busy metro stations in Barcelona were deserted as services were cut back sharply, pickets blocked traffic on Gran Via street and traffic on six major highways in the region was disrupted by protests, Reuters reported. Elsewhere, the response to the strike call was patchy with some shops, supermarkets and cafes open and some closed. The Boqueria market in Barcelona was almost empty. Pro-independence groups and trade unions in Catalonia called a general strike for Tuesday after Spanish police forcibly tried to close polling stations on Sunday after a referendum on Catalan independence from Spain was banned by the constitutional court.
The protests are part of a day of "total stoppage" called by Catalan separatists and backed by the leading trade unions in the region. In images and footage posted online and broadcast on TV3, tractors, students, protestors and tyres-and even two people playing chess on a table in the middle of one motorway–could all be seen blocking roads.
Catalan First Minister Carles Puigdemont said on Twitter that "Today is a day of democratic, civic, dignified protest. Don't let yourself be provoked. The world has seen it: we are peaceful people".
Long lines of trucks could be seen backed up on many motorways. Data from regional traffic authorities showed the largest traffic jam caused by the protest was 10 kilometers long on the AP7 motorway near Girona; another closer to Barcelona was nine kilometers long; a third near Lleida has vehicles trapped for seven kilometers.
In Barcelona, several thousand people gathered outside the central government office and protested in silence with their hands in the air in protest over the riot police charges on Sunday that the Catalan government says injured 893 people in some way.
To encourage participation in the strike, the Catalan government has eased requirements for workers to maintain a minimum level of public services such as transport, El Pais reported.
In Gerona, several thousand people gathered outside the headquarters of the Catalan government. Spanish rail track operator Adif reported on Twitter throughout the morning that protestors had alternately blocked and been cleared from the lines at the train station in Girona. By 12 p.m., train services had again been suspended.
The Civil Guard, which is responsible for policing Spanish motorways in the rest of the country, said that it did not do so in Catalonia. That power had been devolved to Catalan authorities, so responsibility for motorways in the region belongs to the Catalan Police, the Mossos. Meanwhile, the mossos said that there was no plan today to try to unblock roads in the region or remove the 50-or-so barricades or protests.
A spokesman for Spanish traffic authorities (DGT) told The Spain Report that responsibility for traffic management and motorways was a power that had been devolved to Catalonia. Separately, a spokesman for the governing Popular Party, Rafael Hernando, told a radio programme on Tuesday that the strike was entirely political and "nothing to do with labour relations or employment".
"It's Nazi-like", he added, which is ironic because that's how the government's crackdown on referendum voters was described on Sunday.
As a reminder, on Sunday two million Catalans backed independence out of 2.3 million votes cast, with just over 5 million people eligible to vote. Before the government crackdown began, separatist leaders said they would be comfortable declaring independence with about 1.8 million votes. The central government said the vote lacked the checks and guarantees required to ensure people didn’t vote more than once.
The vote damaged Rajoy’s authority - he’d vowed to prevent it happening - and left him scrabbling to forge a united front among national political parties to confront the separatist push. One potential ally, the liberal party Ciudadanos, demanded Rajoy suspend Catalan self-government at once to head off a potential declaration of independence, while the Socialists, the biggest opposition party, urged him to open talks with Puigdemont. As Bloomberg adds, at least 500 Spanish police officers have been forced out of hotels in the region under pressure from the separatists, according to a spokesman for the police union. The pro-independence mayor of Calella, a beach resort east of Barcelona, called the manager of a hotel in the town threatening retribution unless he forced a police delegation to leave, the spokesman said.
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Still, not all Catalans were united in thei protest: Spain’s two largest unions on Monday said they would not take part in the general strike and also called for dialogue between the central government and Catalonia, criticizing both the call for independence and the heavy-handed police tactics. “The UGT and the CCOO clearly state that we do not back this position or this political strategy. We are not calling a general strike for Oct. 3,” they said on Monday.
Meanwhile, the Catalan Independence campaign’s political leaders are stalling on their next move as the European Union ignores their calls for mediation. Catalan President Carles Puigdemont vowed to notify the regional parliament that voters had opted for independence in Sunday’s vote. That would trigger a process leading to a unilateral declaration of independence within 48 hours, but on Monday Puigdemont ducked the question of when he would set the clock ticking.
To be sure, the market is far less concerned about next steps: after a selloff on Monday, Spanish assets stabilized with the benchmark stock index trading in line with the rest of the euro area, government bonds a touch lower and the euro little changed against the dollar. That euphoria may be premature however.
What happens next?
Puigdemont’s time frame could see him announce the formation of a Catalan republic on Oct. 6 - exactly 83 years since his predecessor as regional president, Lluis Companys, also tried to declare independence. Companys was executed by the dictator Francisco Franco.
“What happened must receive a forceful answer from the Catalan society, who must demand that it isn’t going to happen again in our country,” Javier Pacheco, the head of Comisiones Obreras in Catalunya, said Monday in a joint press conference with his UGT counterpart.