Spanish police give their version of Catalan referendum violence

Spanish security officials have defended their handling of a banned independence referendum in Catalonia, saying police had no choice but to use the kind of force captured in violent mages were flashed around the world in 2017.

Spanish police give their version of Catalan referendum violence
Police drag a man across the ground outside a polling station on the day of the illegal referendum. Photo: AFP

Taking the stand as witnesses at Spain's Supreme Court in Madrid, those responsible for the police operation that prevented some from voting in the October 1st, 2017 referendum gave their version of events in public for the first time.

Footage beamed around the world showed police dragging voters from polling stations by their hair, throwing people down stairs and striking them with batons, sparking shock and complaints from human rights groups.

ANALYSIS: Why the Catalan Republic is a big fat lie

A court order had instructed Catalonia's regional police, the Mossos d'Esquadra, to work with Spain's national police to stop the plebiscite, which was ruled illegal by Spain's Constitutional Court.

But security officials charged that the Mossos did not comply as their leaders sided with Catalonia's separatist government, leaving it to national police to seize ballot papers and boxes, leading to clashes in roughly 30 polling stations.

'Surreal' situation

Clashes outside a polling station in Sant Julia de Ramis,, on October 1st 2017. Photo: AFP

Diego Perez de los Cobos, a colonel at Spain's Civil Guard police force in charge of police operations that day, said the leadership of the Mossos went against the court order and set about facilitating the vote “rather than preventing it.”

He said that on “10 or 11” occasions, the Mossos “tried to physically obstruct the actions of our own forces”.

During security meetings ahead of the vote, Mossos head Josep Lluis Trapero sided “completely” with Catalonia's regional government which called the referendum, Spain's former secretary of state for security, Jose Antonio Nieto, told the court.

“The situation was surreal. We were sitting around a table to stop the referendum with those who organised it,” said Nieto, who was then the second-highest ranking official at Spain's interior ministry.

“Fairy trap”

Trapero faces a separate trial for rebellion.

Nine of the 12 Catalan separatist leaders on trial in the Supreme Court have also been charged with rebellion for their role in staging the referendum and a short-lived independence declaration that followed.

Public prosecutors are calling for them to be sentenced to up to 25 years in jail.

Catalan separatists argue their majority in the regional Catalan parliament gave them a democratic mandate to pursue independence.   

But prosecutors accuse the separatist leaders of violating the law and using crowds to block police on referendum day.   

National police who went to polling stations were met in some cases with “human walls” of people who were sometimes violent, Enric Millo, who was Madrid's representative in Catalonia during the 2017 crisis, told the court on Tuesday.

Police responded “proportionally”, he said.

ABOVE: Footage sent to the Local Spain of police action at a polling station.

Probe into police violence

While the world saw images of police striking would-be voters with their batons, they did not see images of injured officers, Millo added.   

According to the Spanish government, close to 100 police were hurt, none hospitalised.

Millo however said some officers suffered broken fingers or fractured legs.   

Some were hit with metal barriers or cobblestones, he added.   

Others fell in the “Fairy trap”, said Millo, in reference to a brand of dishwashing liquid which he said was spilled in the entrance of polling stations, causing officers to slip, fall before people hit their heads.

Nieto said police ended up pulling back as the security of people and agents was “at serious risk.”

Catalonia's separatist government says seven people were seriously injured that day, including one man who lost an eye due to a rubber bullet fired by police.

Under questioning from the defence, Nieto acknowledged that “dozens” of officers were under investigation for police violence during the referendum.   

Establishing whether or not separatists used violence is key to proving the charge of rebellion, which under Spanish law is defined as “rising up violently and publicly”.

The separatist leaders have always denied exercising any form of violence, insisting on the pacific nature of the independence movement.

By AFP's Diego Urdaneta 

READ ALSO: Catalan separarists' trial: What you need to know

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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