Third night of violence after Spain rapper protests

Spanish police and protesters clashed for a third night on Thursday, over the jailing of a rapper for controversial tweets, triggering a political backlash.

Third night of violence after Spain rapper protests
Image: Josep Lago/AFP

Dozens of people have been arrested since Tuesday, February 16th, night when angry demonstrations erupted after police detained Pablo Hasel, 32, who was holed up in a university in Catalonia to avoid going to jail in a highly contentious free speech case.

The violence has thrust the hard left Podemos party – the junior partner in Spain's leftwing coalition which has opposed Hasel's jailing and publicly supported the protesters – into the firing line.

Police reported six arrests in Barcelona on Thursday after protesters set up barricades, prompting police to fire tear gas.

The centre of the Catalan capital was filled with burning rubbish bins and furniture. Hooded youths hurled stones and bottles at police vans and damaged some vehicles.

The newsroom of the newspaper El Periodico de Cataluna was attacked, while TVE television showed images of clashes in the eastern city of Valencia.

The Spanish government “will oppose all forms of violence”, Spanish Prime minister Pedro Sanchez said Friday February 19th following the third night of protests. “Democracy never, ever justifies violence,” he said in his first public condemnation of the unrest which has been applauded by his junior coalition partners, hard-left party Podemos.

On Wednesday night, hundreds of people gathered in Madrid's Puerta del Sol square calling for Hasel's release, hurling bottles at police, who charged at them in clashes lasting several hours, AFP journalists said.

Police arrested 19 people, while the city's emergency services said 55 people were injured, among them 35 police officers.

In Barcelona and three other Catalan cities, demonstrators lobbed objects at police and set barricades ablaze on Wednesday, with police charging the protesters and in some places firing foam rounds. Some 50 people were arrested across the country. 

The director of Catalonia's regional police force, Pere Ferrer, said officers faced a “highly complex scenario” because of the “high volume of public disorder” which included looting.

The force has opened an investigation after a young woman lost an eye on Tuesday night in Barcelona as a result of a foam projectile used by police to dispel the protesters, he added.

Image: Josep Lago/AFP

'Absolute red line'

Hasel, known for his hard-left views, was arrested after failing to turn himself in on Friday to start a nine-month sentence over tweets calling former king Juan Carlos I a mafia boss and accusing police of torturing and killing demonstrators and migrants.

A court in his hometown of Lerida on February 12 sentenced the rapper to another jail term of two and a half years for threatening to kill a man at a bar, according to a ruling published Thursday.

Hundreds of artists have rallied to Hasel's cause, including filmmaker Pedro Almodovar and Hollywood actor Javier Bardem. Amnesty International said jailing him for song lyrics and tweets was “unjust and disproportionate” while campaigners say prosecuting him is a dangerous assault on free speech.

The violence was roundly denounced by figures across the political spectrum with Socialist deputy prime minister Carmen Calvo saying it was indefensible. “No right can be defended or expressed with violence. That is an absolute red line,” deputy prime minister Carmen Calvo told RTVE public television.

In the immediate firing line was Podemos MP Pablo Echenique who publicly tweeted his backing for the protesters as the clashes were raging. “All my support to the young anti-fascists who are demanding justice and freedom of expression in the streets,” he wrote.

'Display of Trumpism'

But much anger was directed at Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias – also a deputy prime minister – who has criticised Hasel's jailing and used it to question Spain's democracy.

“They have to remove Pablo Iglesias from the Spanish government. It is the only way to turn away from this dangerous path we're going down,” Cuca Gamarra, spokeswoman for the opposition Popular Party's parliamentary faction. “(The Socialist Party) cannot be complicit in the face of what's going
on… and this display of 'Trumpism' we're seeing from Podemos' leaders,” she told RTVE, referring to Donald Trump's bid to incite supporters to storm the US Capitol last month.

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Madrid police end escaped camels’ night on the town

Eight camels and a llama took to the streets of Madrid overnight after escaping from a nearby circus, Spanish police said on Friday.

A camel in a zoo
A file photo of a camel in a zoo. Photo: ATTILA KISBENEDEK / AFP

It was not immediately clear how the long-legged runaways managed to get out but Quiros Circus, which owns them, blamed sabotage by animal rights activists.

They were spotted at around 5:00 am wandering around the southern district of Carabranchel close to where the circus is currently based.

“Various camels and a llama escaped from a circus in Madrid overnight,” Spain’s national police wrote on Twitter, sharing images of eight two-humped camels and a llama hanging around a street corner.

“Police found them and took care of them so they could be taken back safe and sound,” they tweeted.

There was no word on whether the rogue revellers, who are known for spitting, put up any resistance when the police moved in to detain them.

Mati Munoz, one of the circus’ managers, expressed relief the furry fugitives — Bactrian camels who have two humps and thick shaggy coats – had been safely caught.

“Nothing happened, thank God,” he told AFP, saying the circus had filed a complaint after discovering the electric fence around the animals’ enclosure had been cut.

“We think (their escape) was due to an act of sabotage by animal rights groups who protest every year.”

Bactrian camels (camelus bactrianus) come from the rocky deserts of central and eastern Asia and have an extraordinary ability to survive in extreme conditions.

These days, the vast majority of them are domesticated.