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PROTESTS

Looting as police and protesters clash at Barcelona rally for rapper

Looting broke out as police and demonstrators in Barcelona clashed for a fifth night Saturday, with thousands hitting the streets across Spain in protest against the jailing of a controversial rapper.

Looting as police and protesters clash at Barcelona rally for rapper
Image: Pau Barrena / AFP

Angry demonstrations first erupted on Tuesday, February 16th, after police detained Pablo Hasel, 32, and took him to jail to start serving a nine-month sentence in a highly contentious free speech case.

Since then, protesters have turned out every night, clashing with police in disturbances which began in Hasel's home region of Catalonia, but have since spread to Madrid and beyond.

Ahead of the rallies, police were out en masse to head off any of the violence that has marred earlier protests, with dozens of police vans lining the streets of Madrid and Barcelona.

Several thousand demonstrators began gathering around 7.00 pm in Barcelona, and clashes broke out as they started marching towards the police headquarters.

Protesters hurled bottles, cans and firecrackers at police, who charged at them as smoke poured into the air from burning barricades, an AFP correspondent said.

Others smashed their way into shops along Barcelona's glitzy Passeig de Gracia shopping avenue, looting stores such as Nike, Versace, Tommy Hilfiger, Hugo Boss and Diesel.

They also attacked the Barcelona stock exchange building and torched several motorbikes.

The Mossos d'Esquadra regional police said nine people had been arrested at demonstrations across Catalonia, six of them in Barcelona. And the region's emergency services said six people had been injured, two in Barcelona.

People taking photos of the looting on Passeig de Gracia in Barcelona. Image: Pau Barrena / AFP

Protester loses an eye

In Madrid, around 400 people gathered under a heavy police presence in the city centre, chanting and clapping as curious shoppers stopped to watch.

“Free Pablo Hasel!” they yelled as a helicopter flew overhead and at least 17 police vans could be seen lined up along Gran Via, Madrid's busiest shopping street.

Earlier several hundreds had gathered in the southern cities of Malaga, Cordoba and Seville, local media reported, with another 100 protesters gathering in the northern city of Santander and a similar number in Logroño.

So far, more than 100 people have been arrested in the protests over Hasel, and scores more injured in the clashes, among them many police officers and a young woman who lost an eye after being hit by a foam round fired by police.

The clashes have also sparked a political row that has exacerbated a divide within Spain's leftwing coalition, which groups the Socialists of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and the hard-left Podemos.

While the Socialists have firmly opposed the violence, Podemos' leadership has backed the protesters.

The party emerged from the anti-austerity “Indignados” protest movement that occupied squares across Spain in 2011. Their position is that the Hasel case exposes Spain's “democratic shortcomings”.

Known for his hard-left views, Hasel was handed a nine-month sentence over tweets glorifying terrorism and videos inciting violence. The court ruling said freedom of expression could not be used “as a 'blank cheque' to praise the perpetrators of terrorism”.

He was also fined about 30,000 euros for insults, libel and slander for tweets likening former king Juan Carlos I to a mafia boss and accusing police of torturing and killing demonstrators and migrants.

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OFFBEAT

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.

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