Clashes erupt as Spanish Cabinet holds meeting in Catalonia

Thousands of pro-independence protesters angry about Spain's Cabinet holding a meeting in Catalonia blocked roads across the region Friday and clashed with anti-riot police in its capital.

A dozen protesters were arrested, and scores were injured during the clashes, the regional Mossos d'Esquadra police said after the meeting in Barcelona finished.

Spain's center-left government announced a series of gestures, including steps to reverse the conviction of a Catalan president executed in 1940, and infrastructure works for the northeastern region, along with the highest increase in the national minimum wage in four decades.

But the most radical protesters seemed unimpressed, confronting police in anti-riot gear in the streets of Barcelona, angry at Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's presence in the city.

The Catalan regional government, formed by a coalition of pro-secession parties, had called on people to protest peacefully despite an agreement with central authorities to find a way out of the political crisis that has festered since Catalonia's failed secession attempt last year.

After their encounter on Thursday — the second since both took power earlier this year — Sanchez and Catalan President Quim Torra issued a joint statement calling for dialogue to settle the conflict over the future of Catalonia.

Sanchez, who inherited the Catalan crisis when he toppled his conservative predecessor in June, made mending relations with the prosperous region one of his priorities. But his minority government —the Socialists only control a quarter of the parliament's lower house — faces fierce opposition by more conservative groups urging a stronger hand on Catalonia or early elections.

Despite Thursday's apparent progress, distrust prevailed on Friday. Security in the prosperous northeastern region, normally in the hands of the Catalan police, was reinforced with hundreds of anti-riot officers sent by Spain's national police forces.

"It is a provocation," said Oriol Benet, a 24-year-old pharmacist who joined others marching near the headquarters of the National Police in Barcelona.

Spanish television broadcast Sanchez's walk from his hotel to the location of the meeting down streets heavily guarded by police.

Meters away a crowd of mostly young protesters jeered. Larger clashes erupted around midday.

The Mossos police force said that 43 people, including 28 agents, were injured and that one of the 12 protesters arrested for public order offenses was carrying inflammable material. A TV journalist was also punched to the floor by some protesters, the Intereconomia channel showed in online video.

Retired salesman Romualdo Sedo, who displayed a yellow ribbon pin in support of nine jailed separatist politicians who are awaiting a trial for their part in last year's push for independence, said he wants things to be "resolved in a peaceful way."

"I am not with those who cover their faces," the 67-year-old said, "even if they are protesting the same thing I am."

"Any chance to talk is good," said Carlos Castilla, watching from a distance how protesters launched smoke bombs. "It is clear the status quo doesn't work, they agreed on that. I think the answer is more self-government and that Catalonia manages its own finances."

Sanchez had presented the meeting in Barcelona as "a way of showing affection to Catalonia."

On Friday, his cabinet took the first step to nullify a court-martial that led to the execution in 1940 of Lluis Companys, the Catalan regional president arrested by the German Nazi secret police in France and handed over to the regime of dictator Gen. Francisco Franco.

The Socialist administration also proposed renaming Barcelona airport in honor of Josep Tarradellas, who headed the Catalan government in exile during the dictatorship.

Catalan government spokeswoman Elsa Artadi dismissed the measures, including a package of public works and railway improvement projects, as "old" and "political promises," adding that a meeting that created so much trouble wasn't necessary for announcements with no real effect for Catalans.

The government also announced that the monthly minimum wage will be raised from 736 to 900 euros ($1,019) and civil servants' salaries will increase 2.5 percent starting on Jan. 1.

The 22-percent minimum wage hike is part of the Socialists' deal to pass the country's 2019 budget with the support of an anti-austerity party.


Parra reported from Madrid. Photographer Emilio Morenatti and videographer Iain Sullivan in Barcelona contributed to this report.