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Catalans rally into the night after major escalation of tensions with Madrid

Spain's central government braced for a second day of protests in Barcelona on Thursday as separatists called for "permanent mobilisation" after Madrid dealt yet another blow to preparations for an outlawed referendum on independence.

Catalans rally into the night after major escalation of tensions with Madrid
Pro-referendum protesters demonstrate in front of Spanish National Police officers in Barcelona on September 20th. Photo: AFP

Influential separatist citizens' organisations urged those who want the vote to take place on October 1st, despite Madrid's ban, to return to the streets after day-long demonstrations that lasted well into the night.

Anger over the detention of 14 regional government officials on Wednesday was further compounded by an announcement that police had seized “close to 10 million ballot papers” destined for a vote deemed illegal by Madrid and the courts.

Thousands took to the streets of Barcelona, prompting Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to call 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 in a televised statement on Wednesday evening as protesters gathered in front of the regional vice-presidency in Barcelona, threatening to “spend the night here”.

They blocked the departure of officers from the Guardia Civil police force who had been conducting searches in the building, and in the early hours of Thursday morning, several hundred remained.

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

Threats and seizures 

The crisis in Catalonia has deepened almost daily over the past weeks as central authorities pull out the stops to prevent the referendum in a region sharply divided over independence.

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.

This and other measures are making it harder and harder for Catalonia's executive to stage the referendum, and Spain's leading El Pais and El Mundo dailies said Madrid had dealt a major blow to the organisation of the vote.

Among those arrested on Wednesday was Josep Maria Jove, secretary general of economic affairs and Catalonia's deputy vice president, a regional government spokesman said.

The others work in various Catalan government departments and are suspects in a probe into “disobedience, misfeasance and embezzlement”, the High Court in Catalonia said.

Launched in February, the probe centres around allegations that confidential data was stolen to provide separatists with information on Catalan taxpayers, a judicial source who refused to be named said.

Catalan President Carles Puigdemont condemned the “totalitarian and undemocratic attitude of the Spanish state”.

He accused Madrid of imposing a “de facto” state of emergency to stop the referendum.

READ ALSO: Nine key pitfalls of Catalonia's independence referendum

'Full of protests'

Throughout Wednesday, protesters rallied in front of several regional government buildings and the headquarters of the radical CUP party, part of the ruling separatist coalition in Catalonia, where police said they were conducting an unspecified “operation”.

Supporters of the referendum in Catalonia also protested in several cities in the region and in Madrid.

“We're here more by pride than for independence,” Marc Oltra i Garcia, a 23-year-old gardener, said in Barcelona.

“If we don't get independence today it will happen tomorrow, and if not tomorrow, after tomorrow.”

Omnium and the Catalan National Assembly, two influential separatist organisations, called for more rallies in front of the high court in Barcelona on Thursday — protests they pledged would be “permanent” until those detained are freed.

Catalonia divided

Polls show that while Catalans are sharply divided on whether they want independence or not, a large majority would like to vote to settle the matter.

But Madrid is against it, pointing to the constitution which states that the unity of the Spanish nation is “unbreakable” and that only the central government has the power to call a referendum on any matter.

Separatists in Catalonia, a region with its own language and customs, have responded they have a democratic right to decide on their future.

Pro-separatist parties captured 47.6 percent of the vote in a September 2015 Catalan election which was billed as a proxy vote on independence, giving them a narrow majority of 72 seats in the 135-seat Catalan parliament.

But a survey commissioned by the regional government in July showed that 49.4 percent of Catalans were against independence while 41.1 percent were in favour.

VIDEO: Angry protests break out in Barcelona as police detain Catalan officials

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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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