Police, protesters clash in Barcelona at rally for jailed rapper

Angry demonstrations first erupted on February 16 after police detained rapper Pablo Hasel
Angry demonstrations first erupted on February 16 after police detained rapper Pablo Hasel Josep LAGO AFP
3 min
Advertising

Barcelona (AFP)

Heavy clashes broke out between police and demonstrators in Barcelona for a fifth night on Saturday as thousands hit the streets across Spain to protest the jailing of a controversial rapper.

Angry demonstrations first erupted on Tuesday 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 rallies, with dozens of police vans lining the streets of Madrid and Barcelona.

Several thousand demonstrators began gathering around 7 pm in Barcelona, but 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.

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 Logrono.

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

- Split in ruling coalition -

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".

He was also fined about 30,000 euros ($36,000) 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.