Pro-independence protesters take to Barcelona's main train station

BARCELONA (Reuters) – Dozens of protesters crowded into Barcelona’s main railway station on Saturday in the latest show of dissent to grip the city more than a month after a Spanish court handed stiff prison sentences to nine Catalan separatist leaders.

Protesters poured into Barcelona’s Sants station, some staging a sit-in while a handful scuffled with police, heeding a call by a separatist group known as CDR. The organization had urged people to show up at nine railway stations across Barcelona in hopes of provoking what they described as a “total blockage” on social media.

Police said the protest was limited to one station and protesters were removed after about an hour, joining a wider crowd who had gathered outside the station, some waving separatist flags.

No arrests were made and transit services were not disrupted, authorities added.

The regional capital Barcelona has seen weeks of protests, at times erupting in violence, since Spain’s supreme court sentenced nine of the region’s leaders to up to 13 years in prison over their role in a failed 2017 bid for Catalan independence.

On Wednesday Spanish police cleared out protesters who had trapped about 500 vehicles while blocking a highway for more than 15 hours. A day earlier, French riot police used tear gas to force out protesters who spent more than 24 hours blocking the same highway where it straddles France and Spain.

The push for secession in the northeastern region, which loomed large over last Sunday’s parliamentary election, was back in focus this week after the deeply fragmented electoral result handed separatist parties a chance to play a key role in unblocking the political stalemate in Madrid.

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Catalan parliament presses case for independence, more protests planned

BARCELONA/LA JONQUERA, Spain (Reuters) – Catalonia’s parliament pressed its case for secession from Spain on Tuesday, two days after a national election, while French riot police fired tear gas at Catalan protesters to try to unblock a major border crossing.

Defying a warning of legal consequences from Spain’s Constitutional Court, the Catalan parliament, which is dominated by pro-independence parties, expressed the “will to exercise the right of self-determination in a concrete way”.

The motion called for political action but is non-binding and has no legal effect, a parliament spokeswoman told Reuters.

Separately, the pro-independence cause received a tacit boost from an adviser to the European Court of Justice. Advocate General Maciej Szpunar said a jailed Catalan separatist leader elected to the European Parliament while in detention should have had the right to ask lawmakers to decide whether to uphold his immunity.

The sentencing by Madrid last month of nine Catalan separatist leaders who spearheaded a failed independence bid in 2017 sparked protests, some violent, which overshadowed Spain’s election campaign.

The country’s far-right Vox party more than doubled its number of seats after its fiercely anti-separatist rhetoric struck a chord with many voters. The vote produced a highly fragmented parliament but the ruling Socialists and far-left Podemos party pledged to work together on Tuesday to try to form a majority coalition.

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  • Catalan parliament defies Spanish court with motion on self-determination

In the latest pro-independence protest, Catalan demonstrators blocked a major road link between the Spanish region and France for over 24 hours before French riot police used tear gas to disperse them on Tuesday.

Officials said the road leading into Spain had been cleared but the one heading to France was still blocked and protest leaders pledged further road blockages.

The French police arrested 18 people for blocking traffic at the La Jonquera border crossing and Catalan police arrested another, officials said, adding that protesters blocked the smaller N-II route in both directions after leaving the highway.

Protest organisers also called for further road blockages on the border as they seek to draw international attention to the Catalan independence issue.

European Court of Justice adviser Szpunar said jailed Catalan separatist leader Oriol Junqueras’s conviction brought his mandate as a member of the European Parliament to an end but advised the court that the parliament should be able to decide whether to waive or defend the immunity of MEPs.

In June, 76 members of the European Parliament (MEPs) from a range of parties called on the parliament to protect the rights of Catalan leaders who were unable to collect their credentials, saying the Spanish government had violated their rights by barring them from taking their seats.

Junqueras, the Catalan government’s former deputy leader, was sentenced to 13 years in prison in October. Another former Catalan separatist leader who was also elected to the European Parliament in May, Carles Puigdemont, welcomed the adviser’s opinion.

“This shows another extremely serious injustice in which Junqueras is a victim; his rights and those of voters have been violated,” Puigdemont, who lives in self-imposed exile in Belgium, tweeted.

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Spain's Socialists again seek to rule without majority as Ciudadanos collapses

MADRID (Reuters) – The head of Spain’s center-right Ciudadanos party quit on Monday after heavy election losses, potentially making his party more amenable to backing a government led by the Socialists.

Sunday’s election left Spain’s parliament even more fragmented than a previous election in April, with the Socialists winning but still short of a majority, and the far-right Vox surging at the expense of the market-friendly Ciudadanos (Citizens).

Ciudadanos, one of the upstart parties that ended the domination of the Socialists and the conservative People’s Party (PP), winning its first national seats in 2015, shrank to just 10 seats from 57.

It had billed itself as a new-style liberal, centrist party, but its leader Albert Rivera turned it sharply to the right this year and rejected any form of cooperation with the Socialists.

Rivera said on Monday that his strategy had failed, opening the door for a new leader potentially more open to cooperation.

“It’s time to unite Spaniards. The political leaders can divide or look (to)… build bridges,” he said in an emotional resignation speech.

Sunday’s election was Spain’s fourth in four years, and the appearance of new parties has made it ever harder to form a stable government.

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  • Spain's Socialists rule out grand coalition with conservative rivals

Still, senior Socialist official Jose Luis Abalos said the party would try to do so as quickly as possible “because the country needs it”, expressing hope that it could take office by December.

He said acting prime minister Pedro Sanchez, the head of the party, was starting to call other party leaders on Monday, and that Ciudadanos had expressed its willingness to help.

Sanchez had gambled on a repeat ballot to break the political deadlock after failing to agree what had seemed a natural alliance with the left-wing Unidas Podemos – which gave up seven seats on Sunday to score 35.

However, the outcome – played out against a secessionist crisis in Catalonia – has left Spain’s political landscape even more divided.

‘NO ONE HAS WON’

The Socialists slipped by three seats, their score of 120 far short of the 176 needed for a majority, even assuming support from Podemos.

Despite a 33% gain to 88 seats by the PP, the Socialists quickly ruled out a “grand coalition” with the conservatives.

Senior PP official Teodoro Garcia Egea told Onda Cero radio on Monday that Sanchez had not even asked his party to offer passive support for a Socialist-led government by abstaining in a confidence vote. “Even if he did, we wouldn’t give it to him because we don’t trust him,” he said.

Abalos ruled out another election, however. The rise of Vox, the first far-right party to get more than one lawmaker since General Francisco’s Franco’s Fascist regime ended with his death in 1975, may also focus minds on a deal.

To be confirmed as prime minister in a first-round parliamentary vote, Sanchez would need a remote-seeming absolute majority.

But a second-round vote would require only a qualified majority, meaning it could be achieved with the help of abstentions.

The leader of the far-right Vox, which on Sunday became the third-largest by gaining 28 seats for a total of 52, said it would vote against any government led by the Socialists.

Despite Vox’s surge, the left-right balance in parliament has changed little from the last parliament.

“No one has won,” independent political analyst Miguel-Anxo Murado said. “The best success has been for … Vox, but this win does not give them any power … It’s not enough for the right-wing bloc to form a government.”

The Catalonia crisis also reared its head as some 500 pro-independence protesters blocked an important truck route at the French border.

Organizers said they wanted to “make the Spanish state understand that the only way is to sit down to talk”.

Catalonia handed down long prison sentences last month to nine leaders of a failed independence bid, putting the independence drive at the forefront of voters’ minds there.

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Spain 'cannot wait any longer' to have a government, says PP leader Casado

MADRID (Reuters) – The leader of Spain’s conservative People’s Party, Pablo Casado, on Sunday said the country “cannot wait any longer” to have a government, without spelling out if he would do anything to help a government being put together.

Casado also said Spain would be harder to govern after Sunday’s election result, which delivered a hung parliament.

Casado said his party, which came second in the election, would fulfill what he called “its duty” and was awaiting the next move from Pedro Sanchez’s Socialists, without giving any details.

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No majority seen in Spanish election, far-right boosted: El Pais poll of polls

MADRID (Reuters) – Neither the left nor the right will win a majority in Spain’s parliamentary election this Sunday, according to a calculation by El Pais newspaper based on dozens of opinion polls.

The closely-watched poll of polls confirmed weeks of surveys that suggested the election will do little to break a long-standing stalemate that has forced voters to the polls for the second time this year and for the fourth time in four years.

Instead, it suggested the emergence of a far more complex political landscape, with a 60% chance of neither the left nor the right reaching the 176 seats needed for a majority in the 350-seat parliament.

The Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE), led by Pedro Sanchez, would lead with 117 seats, down from the 123 seats obtained in April’s inconclusive election.

Its main rival, the conservative People’s Party (PP), could reach 92 seats, a significant gain from the 66 seats it won in the previous election.

Far-right party Vox, which secured its first parliamentary seats in the previous election, would see its seats nearly double from 24 to 46, overtaking left-wing Podemos and center-right Ciudadanos to become the third-largest parliamentary group, it showed.

Several recent polls suggest support increased for Vox since the eruption of protests, at times violent, in Catalonia following the sentencing of nine independence leaders to prison terms of up to 13 years last month.

The unrest has seemingly provided a boost to parties on the right, who have called for the central government to take a tougher line on separatists in the northeastern region.

In the past four years, elections in Spain have produced minority or short-lived governments as political leaders struggled to adapt to the emergence of new parties that ended years of dominance by PP and Socialists.

The El Pais poll of polls is based on surveys published until Monday. By law, opinion polls cannot be published any closer to the election date.

It suggests parties will have to be creative and go beyond traditional alliances to try to form a government.

The Socialists and PP would together have enough seats to have a majority. Both parties have, however, publicly ruled out a “grand coalition” pact.

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Catalonia's mayors call for self-determination before protest march

MADRID (Reuters) – The vast majority of Catalonia’s almost 1,000 mayors on Saturday urged authorities in Madrid to grant the region the right to determine its own future, as crowds of separatists readied for a protest march in Barcelona later in the day.

The Catalan capital has been convulsed by almost two weeks of daily demonstrations since nine politicians and activists were jailed for between nine and 13 years for their role in an independence bid in 2017 that Spain’s courts had declared illegal.

Mayors representing 814 of the region’s 947 local authorities gathered at the headquarters of the regional government to present its leader Quim Torra with a document whose core message – liberty for political prisoners, dialogue and self-determination – they had all endorsed.

To chants of “independence”, Torra said: “Your presence is a sign of unity, a unity that is necessary and that we need to maintain against repression.

“We have to be capable of creating a republic of free men and woman … and overcoming the confrontational dynamic with a constructive one.”

The gathering marked the opening act of a day of protest due to culminate in a march through the city center that organizers Assemblea Nacional Catalana and Omnium Cultural – grassroots groups whose leaders are among the nine serving jail terms – hope will draw the largest crowds of any demonstration since the sentences were passed.

Both groups say they are committed to peaceful protests, but some of last week’s marches were marred by violence, including clashes between demonstrators and police.

In an interview with Reuters last week, Torra called on Madrid to open talks with a view to the region holding a second referendum.

Spain’s main parties, including the minority Socialist government, have consistently rejected any moves towards secession, a stance they have reiterated in recent days as the country gears up for a national election on Nov. 10.

Catalonia’s electorate is itself split over the issue of independence, and supporters of continued unity with Spain will hold a rival rally in Barcelona on Sunday that the leaders of the country two main center-right parties, PP and Ciudadanos, are due to attend.

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Pro-separatists stage new Barcelona rallies, government says violence fading

BARCELONA (Reuters) – Hundreds of pro-independence protesters took to the streets of Barcelona for a seventh successive night on Sunday, with anger over the jailing of Catalan separatist leaders showing little sign of abating.

One large crowd blocked a road close to the Spanish government headquarters in Catalonia, throwing dozens of sacks of rubbish in front of stationary police vans. A smaller group shut off a major avenue to the east of the city.

However, there was no sign of the violence that has shaken Barcelona in recent days, particularly on Friday, when masked youths set fire to hundreds of garbage bins and hurled rocks, stones and bottles at security forces.

“We are people of peace,” said a sign held up by demonstrators on Meridiana Avenue.

Acting Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska told reporters earlier in the day that 288 police officers had been hurt in the clashes, 267 police vehicles damaged and 194 people arrested. Several hundred protesters were also hurt.

“The riots are diminishing, but we are working on stopping them altogether,” said Grande-Marlaska.

Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau said a policeman and a protester remained in a critical condition, adding that “several people” had been blinded in one eye by police rubber bullets.

Independence is a highly divisive issue in Catalonia, which is Spain’s wealthiest region and has 7.5 million inhabitants. A poll in July showed backing for secession at its lowest level in two years, with 48.3% of people against and 44% in favor.

One of the most prominent figures against self-determination, Albert Rivera, head of the pro-unionist Ciudadanos party, staged a counter-protest on Sunday and called for an end to the violence.

COUNTING THE COST

Addressing hundreds of flag-waving supporters, Rivera accused Spain’s caretaker Socialist government of not doing enough to stop the chaos in one of Europe’s tourist hotspots.

“People can’t take their children to school, they can’t open their businesses,” Barcelona-born Rivera said. “We need a Spanish government that protects the weak.”

City officials estimate that the rioting has caused 2.5 million euros ($2.8 million) worth of damage.

“There are more of us Catalan Spaniards than separatists. It’s important that people see that not everyone is in favor of independence,” said Martina Gonzalez, a 58-year-old cleaner who had a Spanish flag draped over her shoulders.

“I am Spanish, Spanish, Spanish,” the crowd chanted.

Spain’s acting Socialist prime minister, Pedro Sanchez, dismissed calls on Saturday from Catalonia’s pro-independence regional chief to hold talks aimed at defusing the crisis.

Sanchez said Catalonia President Quim Torra must first condemn the tumult unequivocally and then build bridges with the many Catalans who do not want secession.

Spanish media reported that Torra tried to talk to Sanchez by telephone on Saturday and again on Sunday but was rebuffed. Torra said in a statement he has always condemned violence.

Pro-independence leaders staged an illegal referendum in 2017 and then declared they were breaking away from Spain. The Spanish government of the time immediately seized control of the Catalan administration and the ringleaders were put on trial.

The Supreme Court on Monday found nine politicians and activists guilty of sedition and sentenced them to up to 13 years in jail, triggering street unrest.

The Catalan question has dominated domestic politics in recent years and was instrumental in triggering parliamentary elections in April, which gave no single party a majority.

The Socialists have called a national election next month, but a poll released on Thursday suggested parliament would remain split. The survey found that support for Ciudadanos was plunging, suggesting Rivera is fighting for political survival.

(The story is refiled to correct typo in paragraph four)

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Savory and Sweet Snacks From Spain

Ines Rosales, a Spanish company founded in 1910, has recently introduced mini versions of their sweet and savory tortas. The Manchego is savory: buttery and mild. Pair it with a dry fall cider or a spread of fig jam. The original anise is sweet. It smells crisply of licorice, which does not overwhelm the flavor of the cracker. Try it with a lighter white wine.

Ines Rosales mini tortas, $9.90 for one pack, amazon.com.

Follow NYT Food on Twitter and NYT Cooking on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest. Get regular updates from NYT Cooking, with recipe suggestions, cooking tips and shopping advice.

Amelia Nierenberg is a reporter on the Food desk. @AJNierenberg

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Spanish authorities brace for Catalan separatists verdict

BARCELONA (Reuters) – Spanish authorities are bracing for potentially violent protests in Catalonia as the region counts down to the possible jailing of separatist leaders.

Spain’s Supreme Court is expected to announce by Oct. 16 its much-awaited verdict in the case of 12 separatist leaders for their role in a banned referendum and short-lived independence declaration in 2017. Jail terms of up to 25 years are possible.

Catalan separatism has always prided itself on being a peaceful movement and its leaders say that has not changed.

But there are concerns in Madrid that possibly heavy jail sentences for the separatist leaders could unleash pent-up frustration among a radicalized fringe, a senior parliamentary source told Reuters.

Underlining fears that some independence supporters are becoming disillusioned with mainstream secessionist parties, police last month arrested seven activists on charges of bomb-making and preparing violent acts for around the time of the verdict.

A new group, Tsunami Democratic, has emerged, advocating more active forms of civil disobedience. 

As a precaution, Catalan riot police have been equipped with heavier and taller security barriers to protect officers and which protesters cannot throw or climb over, police sources said.

Tear and pepper gas have been authorized in Catalonia since 2012 but are used only in exceptional circumstances, police sources said. They will however be ready for protests after the trial verdict if needed, the sources said.

Sources in Spain’s interior ministry said the government had already deployed an unspecified number of police reinforcements to Catalonia and could send more if the regional force asks for help.

In Madrid, the acting Socialist government, which opposes independence for Catalonia, as do all mainstream parties, says it is ready to overrule the Catalan government and take direct control – as its conservative predecessor did in 2017 after the failed independence bid – if regional leaders break the law after the verdict.

“DISOBEDIENCE”?

As an alternative to direct intervention, the government in Madrid is also considering using other legislation to take control of Catalonia’s security forces in the event of a violent backlash against sentences imposed on the secessionist leaders, the parliamentary source said.

That would only happen if authorities lose confidence in the Catalan police’s handling of the situation, the source added.  

The full extent of the likely protests, beyond those already announced, remains unclear.

Separatist parties have agreed on massive but peaceful “civil disobedience” if the 12 leaders are not acquitted.

Grassroots groups Assemblea Nacional Catalana and Omnium Cultural, some of whose leaders are among those awaiting the Supreme Court’s verdict, said there would be protests in a number of Catalan towns within hours if they are convicted.

These groups, which have organized peaceful protests since 2012, have also planned marches over a period of three days from five Catalan towns to Barcelona, where the protests would merge.

“ACHIEVE NOTHING”?

Some independence supporters say more should be done.

“If we don’t do something very strong, like blocking all of Catalonia … we will achieve nothing,” garage worker Albert Gonzalez told Reuters at a pro-independence rally. He praised the “yellow vest” protests in France and pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong.

Tsunami Democratic, whose leaders have so far not made themselves known, said on Twitter that it wants an “immediate reaction” by citizens after the ruling, such as walking out of their jobs or classrooms. The goal is “to create a generalized and prolonged situation of crisis in the Spanish state,” it said.

The seven activists arrested last month are alleged by prosecutors to be linked to the grassroots CDR, a group which in the last two years has occasionally briefly blocked roads and tried to storm the Catalan parliament.

Separatist leaders accuse Madrid of scare tactics. “The pro-independence movement is and will always be peaceful,” said Catalan head of government Quim Torra.

In a sign of how anxious separatists are to maintain their image of non-violence, the CDR and others stress they are peaceful.

“(Our name) has been stained. We are not violent,” one senior member of the CDR who is active in the Barcelona neighborhood of Sant Antoni told Reuters.

He described the organization’s actions as intended to pressure politicians. While it was possible that a frustrated minority could be tempted to act violently, he stressed peaceful activism was the only way forward. “The state is very strong. They would always win over us,” he said.

Prosecutors are seeking 7 to 25 years in jail for the separatist leaders – nine of whom have been in pre-trial detention for almost two years – over charges of rebellion, sedition and misappropriation of public funds.

Joan Esculies, history professor at the Open University of Catalonia, said disappointment with separatist leaders might cause a minority to act violently.

But he said there was no widespread support for violence in Catalonia and it would be wrong to draw any comparisons between Catalan separatism and ETA, the Basque secessionist group that ended its campaign of violence in 2018 after killing more than 850 people over almost half a century.

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