Street fires erupt in Barcelona in fourth day of Catalan protest

Separatist demonstrators gather at Paso de Gracia avenue during a protest after a verdict in a trial over a banned independence referendum in Barcelona, Spain, October 17, 2019. REUTERS/Jon Nazca

BARCELONA (Reuters) – Thousands gathered in Barcelona in a fourth day of protests that have led to the worst sustained street violence in Spain in decades after Catalan leaders were sentenced to lengthy jail terms for their roles in a 2017 bid for independence.

Young people draped in Catalan flags congregated peacefully, tossing balls and skipping rope. Later the mood turned ugly, with protesters setting fire to cafe chairs on the fashionable Rambla de Catalunya street at the heart of the tourist district.

Earlier in the day, thousands of students took to the streets, some hurling eggs at police holding riot shields. Marches from around the region are due to converge on Barcelona on Friday and unions have called a general strike for the day.

“It’s not about who is a separatist and who is not – it’s about human rights,” said Aila, a student who declined to give her family name.

Spain’s Supreme Court found nine politicians and activists guilty of sedition on Monday and sentenced them to up to 13 years in jail.

Thousands barricaded the airport on Monday, leading to canceled flights and stranded tourists. On Wednesday, nearly 100 people were injured across the region in unrest while cars and garbage bins were torched overnight.

Independence is a highly divisive issue that polarizes the wealthy region and inflames political sentiment in the rest of Spain. Neither those wanting a split from Spain nor those favoring unity make up a majority of the region’s population.

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