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 just after Catalan leaders had been sentenced to lengthy jail terms for their roles in a 2017 bid for independence.

Young men and women 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 trendy 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 about the area are due to converge on Barcelona on Friday and unions have named a basic strike for the day.

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

Spain’s Supreme Court identified 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, top to canceled flights and stranded vacationers. On Wednesday, practically 100 men and women had been injured across the area in unrest although vehicles and garbage bins had been torched overnight.

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

Pro-independence leaders staged their banned referendum in 2017 and then declared they had been breaking away from Spain. The Spanish government right away seized manage of the Catalan administration and the ringleaders had been place on trial.

A demonstrator reacts in front of a fire for the duration of a protest just after a verdict in a trial more than a banned independence referendum in Barcelona, Spain, October 17, 2019. REUTERS/Rafael Marchante

The riots come at a vital time for the acting prime minister, Socialist Pedro Sanchez, as he prepares for the country’s fourth election in as quite a few years on Nov. 10.

The ideal-wing opposition has named for a a lot more forceful crackdown on the pro-independence regional government.

Catalonia really should hold a new vote on independence from Spain inside two years, the head of the region’s government stated on Thursday in a fresh challenge to Madrid.

Addressing the Catalan parliament, pro-independence regional chief Quim Torra criticized the rioting, saying the separatist result in was a peaceful movement.

But he also pushed the case for forging ahead with the stalled secessionist drive, saying the prison sentences for separatists would not deter a new vote on independence.

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“We’ll return to the ballot box once again on self-determination,” he stated.

Barcelona town hall stated 400 garbage containers had been set ablaze on Wednesday and estimated that the city had suffered harm totaling a lot more than 1 million euros ($1.1 million) in two days. Some city residents condemned the rioting.

“This does not represent the majority of Catalans, whichever side they are on, be they pro-constitution or pro-independence,” stated Joan, a 50-year-old tiny-enterprise owner.

Carmaker Seat, a unit of Volkswagen AG (VOWG_p.DE) has halted production at its plant in Martorell, close to Barcelona, from Thursday afternoon till Saturday, as it expects planned marches to disrupt visitors, a firm spokeswoman stated.

Reporting by Marco Trujillo and Jordi Rubio in Barcelona Extra reporting by Joan Faus, Guillermo Martinez in Barcelona, Ashifa Kassam, Emma Pinedo, Clara-Laeila Laudette, Isla Binnie, Jose Elías Rodríguez and Ingrid Melander in Madrid, Writing by Sonya Dowsett and Crispian Balmer Editing by Grant McCool and Matthew Lewis

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