WATCH: Catalan separatists stage protests as King of Spain visits Barcelona

Several thousand Catalan protesters massed in Barcelona on Monday seeking to disrupt a visit by King Felipe VI as the country barrelled towards another election under the shadow of the separatist crisis.

WATCH: Catalan separatists stage protests as King of Spain visits Barcelona
Photos: AFP

After weeks of soaring tensions in Spain's protest-hit northeast region, triggered by the Supreme Court's jailing of nine separatist leaders last month, security was tight for the royal visit during which the monarch gave awards to talented youths.

Gathered in the city, several thousand people rallied with all manner of banners and slogans including “Death to the Bourbon (monarchy)” and “Barcelona will be the nightmare of Felipe VI”.   

Some held up signs in English saying: “The Spanish king is not welcome in Catalonia”, while others carried upside-down pictures of the king, an AFP correspondent at the scene said.

Since Felipe's arrival on Sunday, security has been tight with a large number of forces deployed around the venue where the awards ceremony was taking place, and police cutting off one of the city's main roads.

The king did not directly mention the unrest that followed the court ruling, but he hailed the contributions made to Spanish democracy by a “plural and inclusive” Catalonia which is “constructive and supportive of progress”.

“These values represent without a doubt the best of Catalonia's stories. They cannot and should not be a memory of the past, but a present and future reality, a reality in which there can be no room for violence, intolerance, or the impairment of the rights and freedoms of others,” he added, delivering this part of his speech in Catalan.

King Felipe VI drew the ire of Catalan separatists two years ago when, at the height of the crisis, he sternly denounced the independence bid and urged the authorities to “ensure constitutional order.

His intervention came just days after the region staged a referendum barred by Madrid which was marred by police violence, and later issued a short-lived independence declaration, triggering Spain's worst political crisis in

“The king aligned himself with the police who beat those who came to vote,” said 45-year-old business manager Jose Ligero, referring to the monarch's speech in which he made no mention of the violence.

“We are demonstrating so that the king does not come back to Catalonia, even more so after the totally unjust sentence handed to the separatist politicians.”

The current standoff has been a dominant theme in the runup to Sunday's election, the fourth in as many years, which surveys suggest will give a boost to the far-right Vox, which is likely to come in third place. 


Barcelona protests: What next for Catalonia?

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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.