Separatist tensions persist in Spain after deadly attacks

Spain appealed for unity after the deadly attacks in Catalonia but tensions between Madrid and Barcelona over the region's separatist drive have endured and have even flared up in the police probe.

Separatist tensions persist in Spain after deadly attacks
Flowers and candles have been laid on Las Ramblas as a memorial for the victims. Photo: AFP

The regional Catalan government is determined to push ahead with an independence referendum in the wealthy northeastern region on October 1st, which Madrid has vowed to stop.

Spaniards have dubbed the confrontation a “head-on train collision”.   

The strain in ties has remained palpable in the aftermath of the twin vehicle attacks last week in Barcelona and Cambrils, a seaside resort further down the Catalan coast, that killed a total of 14 people and injured more than 100.

READ MORE: For all the latest on Barcelona attack

Armed police during a mass held at the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona on Sunday. Photo: AFP

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy  rushed to Barcelona on Thursday night after the first attack on the famous Las Ramblas boulevard to meet with his deputy and the government's representative in Catalonia.   

The Catalan regional government meanwhile met separately.   

Rajoy and the head of the regional government Carles Puigdemont made their first joint appearance after the attacks only on Friday afternoon after a brief telephone conversation the day before.

'Need for unity'

The prime minister, who is accused even by some within his own conservative Popular Party of fuelling separatist sentiment by refusing to satisfy Catalan demands for greater autonomy, called the meeting “very positive”.    

He has repeatedly insisted on the need to “work together” and appealed for “unity in the fight against terrorism”.   

King Felipe VI presided over a minute of silence along with Rajoy and Puigdemont in a Barcelona square near the Las Ramblas boulevard where a white van drove into crowds on Thursday.

This moment of contemplation was followed by applause and repeated cries of “I am not afraid” in Catalan.   

But the next day when the king laid a wreath of flowers on Las Ramblas after visiting the injured in hospital, cries of “long live Catalonia” could be heard from the crowd.

The king remained po-faced, as he has in the past when jeered by Catalan nationalists at a football match at FC Barcelona's Camp Nou stadium. 

Old feuds resurface

Other old feuds have also resurfaced.     Spain's Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido annoyed the Catalan government when he announced on Saturday that the cell that carried out the attacks had been “dismantled”.

Catalonia's interior minister Joaquim Forn corrected him, pointing out that Catalonia's regional police force was leading the investigation and that the suspected driver of the van who ploughed into crowds on Las Ramblas was still at large.

Forn then on Sunday announced that the cell had been “neutralised” even though the police said they don't know the whereabouts of the fugitive.    

Like Spain's northern Basque Country, Catalonia, which is home to 7.5 million people who have their own distinct language and culture, has its own police force — the Mossos d'Esquadra — which jealously guards its autonomy.   

Spanish media opposed to Catalan separatism have highlighted the fact that when Forn gave the toll of the attacks, he distinguished between Catalans and Spaniards as if they are different nationalities.

Newspapers have also pointed out that experts have long warned that Catalonia was a fertile ground for terrorism because of the high number of suspected jihadists who have been arrested in the region.

Some accuse Catalonia of having favoured immigration from North Africa over those from Latin America, who speak Spanish, to protect the Catalan language — a charge the Catalan government strongly rejects.

They say that while Arab speaking immigrants must learn Catalan to be able to communicate, those from Latin America can use Spanish which all Catalans understand.

By Patrick Rahir / AFP


Why has the expansion of Barcelona airport prompted mass protests?

Around 10,000 people demonstrated against the expansion of the El Prat airport in Barcelona on Sunday.

Why has the expansion of Barcelona airport prompted mass protests?
People march during a demonstration against the expansion of the Barcelona-El Prat airport. Photo: Pau BARRENA / AFP

Several ecological and agricultural organisations, have demanded that the expansion be stopped due to the fact nearby wetlands and farms would have to be destroyed.

The demonstration took place on Calle Tarragona in the Catalan capital between Plaça d’Espanya and Plaça dels Països Catalans.

The protests still took place, even though last week, Spain suspended the €1.7 billion airport expansion project, citing differences with the Catalan government, after president Pere Aragonès said he wanted to avoid destroying La Ricarda lagoon, a natural reserve next to the airport. 

Environmentalists decided not to call off the march, in case plans for the airport expansion still went ahead.

READ ALSO: Six things you need to know about Barcelona airport’s €1.7 billion planned expansion

Political representatives from ERC, En Comú Podem and the CUP also attended, as well as the leader of Más País, Íñigo Errejón; the Deputy Mayor for Ecology of the Barcelona City Council, Janet Sanz, and the Mayor of El Prat de Llobregat, Lluís Mijoler.

People from neighbourhoods across the city marched towards Calle Tarragona and could be seen holding placards that read Nature yes, airport no and shouting slogans such as “More courgettes and fewer planes” and “Fighting for the climate, health, and life”. 

One of the largest groups of people were those from El Prat de Llobregat, the municipality which is home to the airport, who were led by tractors. 

People march during a demonstration against the expansion of Barcelona-El Prat airport. Photo by Pau BARRENA / AFP

In addition to protesting against the expansion of the El Prat airport, people were also demonstrating against the Winter Olympic Games in the Pyrenees and extensions to airports in Mallorca and Madrid. 

A representative of Zeroport, Sara Mingorría said “We are here to defend not only La Ricarda, but the entire Delta”. 

The philosopher Marina Garcés also argued that the expansion of the airport would mean “more borders, more mass tourism, more control and more precarious jobs.” 

The leader of the commons in the Catalan parliament, Jéssica Albiach, who also attended the protest, asked the PSOE for “coherence”: “You cannot be passing a law against climate change and, at the same time, defend the interests of Aena [the airport operations company]”, she said. 

She also urged the leader of the Generalitat, Pere Aragonès, to “definitely say no. 

If the airport expansion in Barcelona goes ahead, environmentalists say that CO2 emissions would rise by a minimum of 33 percent. These levels would surpass the limits set by the Catalan government’s climate targets.