'Occupation forces out': Tens of thousands protest in Barcelona

Barcelona (AFP) –


Shouting "occupation forces out" and "the streets will always be ours," tens of thousands took to the streets of Barcelona Tuesday to protest police violence during a banned weekend independence referendum in Catalonia.

Columns of people converged onto the city centre as the region went on general strike, a police helicopter flying overhead, drawing angry whistles as Catalans reel from the violence that marred parts of the Spanish region on Sunday.

"Closed for revolution," read a sign, while parents and children from a school used as a polling station on Sunday unrolled a giant banner on the street made by students earlier on.

"Navas-Sagrera (a Barcelona neighbourhood) for peace and democracy," it read, dozens of multi-coloured little handprints above.

"You can't stop the youth," said Alfredo Vidal, the 68-year-old owner of a dry-cleaning shop, pointing to the hundreds of students walking slowly by, many draped in blue, yellow and red separatist flags.

Tensions in Catalonia, where separatist leaders are seeking independence, have reached boiling-point after the chaotic referendum on Sunday.

Madrid had repeatedly warned Catalan separatist leaders that the independence referendum was illegal and could not go ahead, but they did so anyway.

So it was that riot police descended onto polling stations, in some cases hitting people with batons and shooting rubber bullets, injuring over 90 people according to regional authorities.

"When you provoke people, when you offend them, then they react against you," Vidal said.

"I had never seen Catalans putting their hand on their heart during the Catalan hymn, but for about a month now, I've seen them do it, especially the young," he added.