Protesters angry about Spain‘s Cabinet holding a meeting in Catalonia have blocked a major highway and dozens of roads in the region, disrupting traffic to and from its capital.
Pro-independence supporters called the protests on Friday to show their disgust at Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s decision to lead his weekly Cabinet meeting in Barcelona.
The Catalan regional government, led by a coalition of pro-secession parties, is also supporting the protests despite an agreement with central authorities to work on a solution to the political crisis that has festered since Catalonia’s failed secession attempt last year.
After their second meeting since both took power earlier this year, Sanchez and Catalonia’s president, Quim Torra, issued a joint statement on Thursday calling for dialogue to settle the conflict over the future of the northeastern region.
“Despite the notable differences about its origin, nature and ways of resolution,” the statement said, both governments “share the commitment for effective dialogue that is linked to a political proposal that has the backing of a large part of Catalan society.”
That outcome was beyond the low expectations that had been placed before the talks, when disagreement over their scope and format kept officials negotiating until the very last minute.
But despite the progress, distrust prevailed. Security in the prosperous northeastern region, normally in the hands of the Catalan police, has been reinforced with hundreds of anti-riot officers sent by Spain’s national police forces for Friday’s ministers’ meeting.
The venue, a 14th-century Gothic palace in downtown Barcelona, was shielded with various security cordons and fences, with anti-riot police and vehicles keeping protesters away from it.
There were moments of tension early Friday when regional Mossos d’Esquadra officers used batons to disperse protesters and open a major road near Barcelona’s port.
Sanchez, who has been harshly criticized by the right-wing opposition for his meeting with Torra, wants to send the signal that the Spanish government should be able to hold its Cabinet meeting in anywhere in Spain.
He has also presented the visit as “a way of showing affection to Catalonia.” But many separatists see it as a provocation, coming a year after a snap regional election called as a way out of last year’s independence attempt.