Demonstrators took to the streets to protest the imprisonment of a rapper for a fourth consecutive night in Spain on Friday, as relations strained inside the country’s coalition government over its response to the unrest.
Police in the northeastern region of Catalonia, which has seen most of this week’s rioting, said some protesters pelted officers with bottles, stones, fireworks and paint in Barcelona and at least three other places. Other protesters set fire to large street trash containers and used them to block streets.
Thousands of people joined the marches, but the violence appeared to come from a smaller group.
The pitched battles raged hours after Spanish prime minister Pedro Sanchez said the violence is “inadmissible,” in comments that accentuated a rift with his coalition government’s junior partner.
In impromptu remarks at the start of a speech about the economy, Mr Sanchez addressed the rioting this week that has ignited a heated debate over the limits of free speech in Spain and a political storm over the use of violence by both the rapper’s supporters and the police.
“Violence is an attack on democracy and the government will take a stand against any form of violence to ensure people’s safety,” said Mr Sanchez.
Interior minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska also stepped into the row, thanking police for their efforts and saying they would continue to “guarantee the rights and freedoms of all society against a minority whose misguided idea of rights makes them have recourse to violence”.
Around 80 people, including four on Friday night, had been arrested and more than 100 injured since rapper Pablo Hasel earlier this week was arrested and began to serve a nine-month prison sentence after his conviction for insulting the Spanish monarchy and praising terrorist violence.
Mr Sanchez and Mr Grande-Marlaska belong to the Socialist party, which heads the coalition government. Senior members of the coalition’s junior partner, the far-left United We Can (Unidas Podemos) party, have spoken out in support of the protesters and criticised police after a protester lost an eye, allegedly due to a foam bullet fired by riot police.
On Thursday, the party filed a petition for a “total pardon” for Mr Hasel and another rapper, Valtonyc, who fled to Belgium in 2018 to avoid trial on charges of “glorifying” terrorism.
There has been widespread support for a change in Spain’s so-called “Gag Law” covering freedom of expression, including from artists, celebrities and politicians.
In a surprise move, the Spanish government last week announced that it would change the law to remove prison terms for offences involving freedom of expression – however, it did not mention Mr Hasel or provide a timetable for the changes.