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Catalan leaders call for Madrid talks after violent clashes

A shop window is shattered after clashes during Catalonia's general strike in Barcelona, Spain, October 19, 2019.
A shop window is shattered after clashes during Catalonia's general strike in Barcelona, Spain, October 19, 2019. Rafael Marchante / REUTERS

Separatist Catalan leaders on Saturday called on the Spanish government to enter into talks as Barcelona braced for fresh violence after days of clashes between police and protesters.

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Nearly 200 people were hurt in another night of clashes with radical separatists hurling rocks and fireworks at police who responded with tear gas and rubber bullets.

A hardcore movement of young separatists, Arran, called for a new demonstration "against repression" for 1600 GMT in central Barcelona.

"We exhort the head of the government to fix today a day and hour to sit with us for unconditional talks," regional president Quim Torra said in a speech.

His demand for "unconditional" negotiations, addressed to Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, appeared to be aimed at ensuring that a referendum on independence, currently a non-starter for Madrid, is up for discussion.

The Spanish government responded by saying it had "always been open to dialogue in the framework of respect for the law".

In a statement, it also called on Torra to condemn the violence, "which he has not done so far".

Barcelona has been rocked all week by protests against a Spanish court's jailing of nine separatist leaders on sedition charges over a failed independence bid.

Emergency services said Saturday that 152 people were injured in overnight clashes in Barcelona, and dozens more hurt elsewhere in Catalonia, taking the total to 182.

Authorities had already reported 500 injured since protests started Monday even before the latest clashes erupted.

The interior ministry said 83 people were detained in the overnight violence, in addition to 128 arrests police had reported previously.

Smell of burning

"This can't go on, Barcelona does not deserve this," said Ada Colau, the city's leftist mayor on Saturday, condemning "all kinds of violence".

Air in the Catalan capital was heavy with a burning stench as municipal workers cleared the streets of broken glass, rocks and rubber bullets, and repaired pavements where bricks had been ripped out.

"All this is very sad, and is not helping our cause," said Assumpcio Segui, a 75-year old pro-independence pensioner.

Torra urged demonstrators to remain calm, saying "the defense of rights and freedoms must always be expressed peacefully."

Around half a million people had rallied in Barcelona on Friday in the biggest gathering since Monday's court ruling as separatists also called a general strike in the major tourist destination.

While most marchers appeared peaceful, hordes of young protesters went on the rampage near the police headquarters, igniting a huge blaze that sent black smoke into the air as police fired teargas to disperse them, an AFP correspondent said.

The Supreme Court's explosive decision has thrust the Catalan dispute to the heart of the political debate as Spain heads towards a fourth election in as many years, which is to be held on November 10.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)
 

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