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Protesters gather in Barcelona as Catalan referendum dealt a blow

The Catalan government acknowledged Thursday that its plans to hold an independence referendum on October 1st had been dealt a blow by a crackdown by Spanish authorities against the vote which Madrid deems illegal.

Protesters gather in Barcelona as Catalan referendum dealt a blow
eople sign on a symbolic ballot box reading "I want to be free" during a protest near the entrance of the Economy headquarters of Catalonia's regional government in Barcelona on September 20, 2017. Ph

Catalonia's vice-president admitted Thursday that plans to hold an outlawed independence referendum had been dealt a major blow by a crackdown the previous day, as people gathered in Barcelona for a second day of protests.

Thousands took to the streets of the Mediterranean seaside city on Wednesday after police detained key members of the team allegedly organising the vote slated for October 1st in a region deeply divided over independence.   

INTERVIEW: 'Politicians are acting like children with a box of matches'

Authorities seized nearly 10 million ballots destined for the vote, seriously damaging separatist plans for a referendum with a semblance of legitimacy, even if it was never going to be recognised by Madrid or abroad as it violates the constitution.

Rules have 'changed'

After a day-long protest that lasted well into the night, several thousand independence supporters gathered again Thursday in front of the high court in what influential separatist organisations said would be a “permanent mobilisation” until the officials are freed.

A spokesman for Spain's interior ministry said three of the 14 detained had already been released.

Oriol Junqueras, the region's vice-president whose deputy was among those held, told Catalonia's TV3 television that the operation meant “the rules of the game have been changed.”   

“The circumstances today are different because a significant part of our team, half of the economics team, has been arrested,” he said.   

“That (the referendum) cannot be held in the circumstances that we wanted is obvious,” he said.

Catalan government spokesman Jordi Turull was more optimistic, telling Catalan radio there was “a solution to all problems.”   

But the road ahead is complicated.    

Police have seized over 45,000 notifications destined for Catalans selected to staff polling stations, threatened to arrest mayors who facilitate the vote if they do not comply with a criminal probe and tightened control over the region's finances.

The confiscation of millions of ballot papers on Wednesday delivered an added blow to referendum plans.   

“Madrid's legal response to the Catalan challenge looks increasingly likely to stop the organisation of the self-determination vote, or at least devoid it of any legitimacy,” wrote Antonio Barroso, deputy director of research at advisory firm Teneo Intelligence.

Resentment growing

In a televised statement on Wednesday evening, Rajoy called on Catalonia's separatist leaders to “stop this escalation of radicalism and disobedience once and for all”.

“There is still time to avoid bigger problems,” he said.   

And Inigo Mendez de Vigo, a spokesman for the Spanish government, downplayed the importance of the protests.   

“There are more people who don't protest than who do,” he said during an interview with Onda Cero radio.   

Polls show that Catalans are sharply divided on whether they want independence or not, with the latest survey commissioned by the regional government in July showing 49.4 percent against and 41.1 percent in favour.   

But Madrid's repeated insistence on the illegal nature of the independence drive has generated much resentment in a region where separatists were once far fewer, with critics in both camps saying the central government has not made any attempt to win over hearts and minds.

This has led to a perception that the central government doesn't care, exacerbated by the recent economic crisis and the fact that Catalonia pays more in taxes than it receives in investments and transfers from Madrid.   

“I had always considered myself Catalan and Spanish,” David Barnet, a 36-year-old firefighter, said at the Barcelona protest on Thursday.    

“But when you see that day after day they ask and ask some more, and don't give anything in return… you get angry.”   

While divided, a large majority of Catalans would like to vote in a legitimate referendum to settle the matter, polls show.    

Barroso predicted that Madrid's action would likely “lead to a sustained period of mobilisation against Rajoy's government in the streets in Catalonia, including a day of significant demonstrations on 1 October.”

By Alvaro Villalobos with Daniel Silva in Madrid / AFP

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14 Barcelona life hacks that will make you feel like a local

Barcelona is a popular city for foreign residents in Spain thanks to its coastal location, many international companies and great lifestyle. However, navigating life here can take some getting used to, so here are our top Barcelona life hacks to help make things easier for you.

14 Barcelona life hacks that will make you feel like a local
Barcelona life hacks. Image: Michal Jarmoluk / Pixabay

Invest in a good water filter

Barcelona tap water doesn’t taste the best, particularly in the areas around the Old Town such as El Born, the Gothic Quarter, Barceloneta and Raval. The water is also very hard, meaning that it leaves limescale on appliances such as your kettle.

Using a good water filter can improve the taste and make sure that limescale doesn’t build up. It’s also much more economical and healthier than buying bottled water every time you want a drink.

Use the Rodalies trains to get across the city faster

Many people when they first move to Barcelona just use the metro and don’t bother using the Rodalies trains. While it’s not always necessary, for certain journeys it can make getting across the city much faster.

For example, if you need to get from Sant Andreu or Clot to Sants to connect to one of the intercity trains, it’s only two or three stops on the Rodalies, as opposed to more than 10 on the metro, as well as changing to different lines.

Don’t try and get anything important done in August

This is probably true of most of Spain, but if you need to get anything important done, whether official paperwork or renovations on your apartment, don’t try and get them done in August.

The whole city goes on holiday for the month of August, including office personnel, builders and handypeople. If you need to get any of this done, it’s best to get it done before the holidays or to wait until September.  

Don’t buy drinks from sellers on the beach or in the park

You’ll find many people selling drinks on the city’s beaches and in the main Ciutadella Park. While it can be tempting to buy these, especially when it’s so hot, you need to be aware that these cans of drinks are often stored inside drains or under manhole covers, meaning that they’re not the cleanest.

A few years ago, El País took the mojitos sold by hawkers on the beaches to a local lab. The results came back a few days later to show that they contained high levels of fecal matter and bacteria in them.

Barcelona’s Chinese supermarkets are a great source of ingredients

Although you can now find many more foreign ingredients in local supermarkets than you could just a few years ago, there are still many that you may miss from back home, particularly South East Asian and Indian ingredients.

Barcelona has several excellent Chinese supermarkets, where you can find a range of ingredients, everything from sesame oil and Thai curry paste to Indian spices and affordable peanut butter.

Don’t take valuables out with you to certain areas, particularly at night

Unfortunately, bag snatchings and pickpockets are still commonplace in Barcelona. While the thieves mainly target tourists, foreign residents often find that they are targets too.

The trick is to blend in like a local, look like you know where you’re going and don’t take valuables with you to areas such as the Gothic Quarter, Raval or the Rambla, especially at night. Bag snatchings in El Born have also increased in recent years, so keep your wits about you around there too. 

Find your favourite beach outside of the city

Barcelona’s beaches may have been one of your prime reasons for moving here, but you’ll find that you actually prefer the beaches outside of the city.

Overcrowded, dangerous and a lot dirtier than other beaches in the area, the beaches in Barcelona are unfortunately not all that they’re cracked up to be. You’ll often find that after you’ve been for a swim, your valuables will not still be on the sand where you left them. Head just 15 to 20 minutes outside of the city however and you’ll find the beaches are far nicer and safer.

Find a beach outside of the city centre to go to. Photo: makunin /Pixabay

Try to join several different clubs or groups

Barcelona is a very transient city, meaning that people are moving here and leaving all the time. As a result, you’ll often find that most of the friends you made when first moving here have now moved away and you’ll constantly need to make more. If you join several clubs and groups, you’ll find that making new friends all the time is a lot easier. 

Don’t buy a single transport ticket

It’s never really worth buying a single transport ticket in Barcelona, because you’ll end up spending much more money per journey than you would if you bought the T-Casual (10 journeys) or the monthly T-Usual metro card instead.

You can also buy 10-journey bono tickets for the Rodalies trains, which will also save a lot of money if you’re making regular journeys out of the city. 

Try and avoid shopping at Port del Angel on Saturdays

Port del Angel is Barcelona’s main pedestrianised shopping street. While it’s great and has all the high-street fashion shops you want, it can be a nightmare shopping here on Saturdays.

If you do need to shop on a Saturday, try Rambla Catalunya or one of the shopping malls instead, which won’t be so crowded.

Be prepared for festivals and events

Barcelona holds so many festivals and events that it can be hard to keep up. In normal (non-Covid) years, there is one every other week.

Because of this tickets sell out quickly and there are many fun cultural events that you might miss out on. Keep your calendar up to date, so you know what’s going on, and make sure to book tickets for anything you want to see, well in advance. 

Tipping isn’t necessary at all bars and restaurants

Tipping isn’t all that common in Barcelona, unless perhaps if it’s a particularly nice restaurant or if there’s a large group of you that the waiter has had to look after.

You’ll find that it’s not expected either, except maybe at some of the city’s very touristy restaurants.  

READ ALSO: Why do Catalans have a reputation for being stingy?

Do lots of research before renting an apartment and if it sounds too good to be true, then it is

Unfortunately, there are lots of property scams in Barcelona, so try and do as much research as you can beforehand. Never pay money upfront before you’ve seen the property and received the keys.

Also, be aware that many landlords will not return your deposit at the end of your stay.

Many people get around this by not paying the last month’s rent, but this can also make things difficult for the good landlords who may genuinely need to deduct something for damages, so speak with your estate agency on the best thing to do in this situation.

READ ALSO: What you should know about renting an apartment in Barcelona

Hire a gestor or lawyer to help with immigration and tax issues

You’ll save yourself a lot of time and hassle with immigration and tax issues if you hire a professional to help you in Barcelona, where getting a cita previa (appointment) for official matters can often be difficult, in part because these law firms often bulk book them.

However, there are certain processes that you won’t need an immigration lawyer for such as getting a residency certificate if you’re from an EU country or exchanging your green residency certificate for a TIE if you are British and moved here before the end of 2020.

READ ALSO: BREXIT: How to apply for a TIE residency card in Spain

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