UN: Iranian Forces ‘Shooting to Kill’ Protesters, At Least 7,000 Held

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

UN: Iranian Forces ‘Shooting to Kill’ Protesters, At Least 7,000 Held

Friday, 6 December, 2019 – 12:45
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet attends a news conference at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, December 5, 2018. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
Asharq Al-Awsat
The United Nations said Friday that at least 7,000 people have “reportedly” been arrested in Iran since mass demonstrations erupted last month, adding Iranian security forces were “shooting to kill” in their deadly crackdown against protesters in recent weeks.

In a statement, the UN human rights office said it had obtained “verified video footage” showing security forces firing on protesters, apparently with intent to kill.

The rights office added that it had “information suggesting that at least 208 people were killed” during the unrest, echoing a count also tallied by Amnesty International.

“There are also reports, which the UN Human Rights Office has so far been unable to verify, suggesting more than twice that number killed,” the statement added.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, said video obtained by her office shows “severe violence was used against protesters.”

“We have also received footage which appears to show security forces shooting unarmed demonstrators from behind while they were running away, and shooting others directly in the face and vital organs – in other words shooting to kill,” Bachelet said.

Additional video material shows “armed members of security forces shooting from the roof of a justice department building” in the city of Javanrud, west of Tehran in Kermanshah Province, as well as gunfire from helicopters in Sadra, in Fars Province.

The protests began on November 15 following a surprise hike in fuel prices.

Iran has yet to give overall figures for the number of people killed or arrested when security forces moved in to quell the unrest that saw buildings torched and shops looted.

Bachelet’s office said it had received many reports of ill-treatment against people arrested, “including with the apparent aim of extracting forced confessions.”

She charged that “many of the arrested protesters have not had access to a lawyer,” while raising alarm over “reports of severe overcrowding and harsh conditions in detention centers, which in some cities include military barracks, sports venues and schools.”

“I urge the authorities to immediately release from detention all protesters who have been arbitrarily deprived of their liberty,” she further said.

The demonstrations show the widespread economic discontent gripping Iran since May 2018, when President Donald Trump imposed crushing sanctions after unilaterally withdrawing the United States from the nuclear deal that Tehran struck with world powers.

China: US act on Hong Kong ‘completely unnecessary’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SHANGHAI CHINA NEWS AGENCY ‘SHINE’)

 

US act on Hong Kong ‘completely unnecessary, unjustifiable’: HKSAR chief executive

Xinhua

US act on Hong Kong 'completely unnecessary, unjustifiable': HKSAR chief executive

AFP

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam speaks during a press conference at the government headquarters in Hong Kong on December 3, 2019.

The Hong Kong-related act recently passed by the US Congress and signed into law by the US president is “completely unnecessary and unjustifiable,” Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Chief Executive Carrie Lam said on Tuesday.

At a media briefing before the weekly Executive Council meeting, Lam said the HKSAR government strongly opposes the so-called Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019, and regards it as a “very regrettable” move by a foreign legislature and administration to interfere in the Hong Kong affairs through their own legislation.

Stressing that the human rights and freedom of Hong Kong residents are well protected by the HKSAR Basic Law, Lam pointed out “we enjoy a high degree of freedom in many aspects, including freedom of press, freedom of assembly and demonstration, as well as religious freedom.”

Lam noted that the major chambers of commerce here have been strongly opposing the act, adding that the act may even bring harm to US companies, considering that there are more than 1,300 US enterprises that have operation or even regional headquarters in Hong Kong.

As for the suspension of reviewing applications to visit Hong Kong by US military ships and aircraft and the sanctions against some US non-governmental organizations announced by the Chinese central government on Monday, Lam said the central government shall be responsible for the foreign affairs related to the HKSAR, and the HKSAR will cooperate and follow up in accordance.

Iraq’s striking students defiant amid unrelenting protests

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF AL-JAZEERA NEWS)

 

 

Iraq’s striking students defiant amid unrelenting protests

Despite pressure to return to classes, strikers say they will not stop until anti-gov’t protesters’ demands are met.

by

Iraq's striking students defiant amid unrelenting protests
Tiba, 23,says she believes the school strikes will force politicians to make concessions to protesters [Arwa Ibrahim/Al Jazeera]

Baghdad, Iraq – Tiba says she decided to boycott her university classes the moment she learned that her friend Amer had been killed during clashes with Iraqi security forces.

The pair first met in October in Tahrir Square, the capital’s main site for anti-government demonstrations which have continued for two months. Amer told her that he was protesting on behalf of his brother, who had died in clashes with security forces. Days later, Tiba received news that her new friend had joined a growing list of Iraqi lives cut short during the protests.

“When I saw his picture among the martyrs, I knew I had to do something for my country,” said Tiba, a 23-year-old engineering student at Baghdad University. “The best thing I could do was go on strike,” she added.

More:

For two months, protesters have taken to the streets in Baghdad and towns and cities across the mostly Shia south to demand jobs, basic services and an end to corruption. Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi has since quit and now leads a caretaker government with limited powers, but the grassroots movement wants a complete overhaul of the political system before new elections are held. More than 400 people have been killed and thousands of others wounded in clashes with security forces.

Since October 25, university and school students across Baghdad and Iraq’s south have defied the government and gone on strike to support protesters’ demands.

The students believe the walkout is a potent tool to pressure politicians to act on the protesters’ demands.

“If we keep it up, the government will have to respond,” says Tiba. “Our university campuses have been literally empty for weeks. This can’t go on forever.”

‘No future’

For Hussein, an 18-year-old medical student at the University of Mustansiriya, taking part in the protests is his only hope for a better future.

READ MORE

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“There are barely any jobs out there, even if you’re a university graduate,” he told Al Jazeera. “So, what’s the point of going to class now and then being unemployed a few years later.”

Instead of attending university, Hussein helps organise weekly rallies at the ministry of education, attends the protests at Tahrir Square and participates in campaigns to encourage the sale of local products.

“We do everything from cleaning the streets and painting the walls in Tahrir to holding protests at our university gates to encourage people to join in,” he said, adding that the strikes would continue despite the prime minister’s decision to step down.

“Abdul Mahdi’s resignation means nothing. He’s just a tool in the hands of the corrupt political parties,” said Hussein.

“We’re continuing our strike until the electoral law changes. Unless that happens, our main ask for a complete overhaul of the political system can’t be achieved.”

While university students say the ministry of education has done little to force them back to classes, university professors say strong measures have been taken against faculty members who choose to go on strike.

According to Fayez Abdel Hamid, who teaches medicine at the University of Baghdad, Iraq’s public universities received communication from the ministry of education to ensure staff were attending their jobs.

“Deans were given orders to pass on the names of professors who have been on strike and to deduct money from their salaries as punishment,” he said.

Zaid Shafik, an IT professor at al-Nahrain University, says while he has been forced by his university to prove his attendance, he continues to join the protests.

“After I sign the register in the morning, I head to Tahrir with the students,” he told Al Jazeera. “It’s our right to protest, and we’ll continue to do so no matter the measures taken against us.”

Dhamiaa al-Rubaei, spokesperson for the ministry of education, said students and teachers had been given space to protest.

“We’ve only been encouraging students to attend classes for the sake of their own futures,” she told Al Jazeera.

“With regards to lecturers, they have been mostly attending their classes even if some support students on strike.”

Iraq education story
University campuses in Baghdad and parts of southern Iraq have become empty as thousands of students continue to boycott classes and join protests in Tahrir Square instead [Arwa Ibrahim/Al Jazeera]

Schools participate

Most of those boycotting classes have been university-level students but school teachers and students have also taken part.

After the Iraqi teachers’ syndicate called for a nationwide strike from October 28 to November 7 to mark the beginning of school walkouts, most schools in Baghdad and Iraq’s southern provinces shut their doors, according to the syndicate’s secretary-general Odai Essawi.

READ MORE

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“During the official strike, we saw 100 percent adherence at most schools across Baghdad and the south,” he told Al Jazeera.

Essawi claimed that when the education ministry tried to end the strike by threatening to blame the syndicate for any measures it takes against striking teachers, the body fought back.

“We warned the ministry of education that we would stand up to it. Protesting and expressing our opinions are human rights,” he told Al Jazeera.

Despite the challenges, Essawi says 50 to 75 percent of school students in Baghdad and the south were on partial strike or attended protests after school hours.

The ministry of higher education has warned that if university students continue to strike it may cancel spring break, while the army has warned it would detain administrators who keep schools shut as part of its fight against “terror”.

The threat forced many schools to resume classes, while some set exam schedules in an attempt to force students to return to class.

Omar al-Mukhtar High School in Baghdad, which took part in the strike for more than a week, officially resumed classes after security forces visited the school.

“The whole school, teachers and students, were on strike. Many of us would even go to Tahrir together,” Abbas Tamimi, the school’s headteacher, told Al Jazeera.

“But intelligence staff threatened to take measures if we don’t resume classes,” said Tamimi, adding that 80 percent of students attended classes after he set an exam schedule.

Iraq education story
Headteacher Abbas al-Tamimi says the government has taken measures against schools to ensure that teachers and students attend classes [Arwa Ibrahim/Al Jazeera]

Ali, an 18-year-old student at the school told Al Jazeera that while he had not prepared for the exams, he decided to end his boycott to avoid possible repercussions.

“I boycotted classes for a whole month to show my support for those who died for us,” Ali told Al Jazeera.

“But I had to come back when exams were set. I was worried my name would be sent to the ministry or that I’d be suspended from school altogether,” he added.

Tamimi said that while he has to enforce some rules, he remains lenient towards students who don’t show up.

“We won’t take any measures against students who don’t attend. But people [from the intelligence] do come asking for the register, so we have to maintain some level of adherence,” explained Tamimi.

“But as soon as we finish school hours, students and teachers go to Tahrir hand in hand,” he added.

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Oil-rich but powerless: Who can solve Iraq’s electricity crisis?

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA NEWS

Visitors to Hong Kong drop 43.7% on year in October

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF SHANGHAI CHINA’S NEWS AGENCY ‘SHINE’)

 

Visitors to Hong Kong drop 43.7% on year in October

Xinhua

The number of visitors to Hong Kong dropped 43.7 percent year on year to 3.31 million in October, according to the Hong Kong Tourism Board.

The decline has been widening since July as tourism took the major brunt of social unrest. In the first 10 months, the number of visitors went down by 4.7 percent from a year ago.

The HKTB attributed the sharper fall in the last month to continued violent incidents and a high base a year ago, when the number of visitors was boosted by the opening of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge and the Hong Kong section of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link.

In October, visitors from the Chinese mainland, accounting for about 76 percent of the total, slumped 45.9 percent year on year. US and Japanese visitors fell by 38.2 percent and 44.9 percent from a year ago, respectively.

The dropping visitor number has forced major carriers to adjust their strategy.

Hong Kong Airlines said in a statement Friday that it will suspend services to Vancouver, Ho Chi Minh City and Tianjin since February to focus on operating other priority routes under the challenging business environment caused by the ongoing social unrest.

Sudan: Hundreds March in Khartoum Seeking Justice for Dead Protesters

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Hundreds March in Khartoum Seeking Justice for Dead Protesters

Saturday, 30 November, 2019 – 12:45
FILE PHOTO: Sudanese protesters chant slogans during a rally calling for the former ruling party to be dissolved and for ex-officials to be put on trial in Khartoum, Sudan, October 21, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/File Photo
Asharq Al-Awsat
Hundreds of protesters marched Saturday through downtown Khartoum to demand justice for those killed in demonstrations against Sudan’s now ousted leader Omar al-Bashir.

More than 250 people were killed and hundreds injured in the months-long protests that erupted in December 2018, according to umbrella protest movement Forces of Freedom and Change.

Bashir, who ruled Sudan for 30 years, was deposed by the army on April 11 after the demonstrations triggered by an acute economic crisis.

Crowds marched from a central Khartoum square to Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok’s offices, demanding authorities deliver justice for those killed and also find out about protesters who went missing.

“Blood for blood!” chanted protesters gathered in front of Hamdok’s offices in the capital, an Agence France Presse correspondent reported.

Dozens of policemen stood guard.

“We want justice for martyrs. We are afraid that the criminals might not be judged,” said protester Nizar bin Sufian.

He said protesters welcomed Thursday’s decision by the new authorities to dismantle Bashir’s regime and former ruling party.

“But we have not seen any moves by the government to find those missing or to begin trials of those responsible for the killing of protesters,” bin Sufian told AFP.

Bashir and several senior members of his regime are in prison, while the veteran leader himself is on trial for alleged graft.

Since August, Sudan has been ruled by a joint civilian-military sovereign council headed by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan.

A transitional cabinet led by Hamdok has been tasked with the day-to-day running of the country.

The sovereign council is tasked with overseeing an overall transition to civilian rule as demanded by the protest movement.

Hong Kong protesters wave Trump-Rocky photos at rally

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HILL NEWS NETWORK)

 

Hong Kong protesters wave Trump-Rocky photos at rally

Protesters in Hong Kong on Thursday night could be seen waving pictures featuring the image President Trump recently shared of his face superimposed on the body of Sylvester Stallone’s fictional boxer Rocky Balboa.

The Washington Post reports many protesters in attendance at the “Thanksgiving Rally” were draped in American flags and cheered on Trump.

The president on Wednesday signed legislation affirming the United States’s support for pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.

Protesters flooded the streets of Hong Kong shortly after the bill was signed in Washington.

The legislation made its way to Trump’s desk quickly after it cleared both the House and Senate with veto-proof majorities.

The legislation imposes sanctions on individuals who commit human rights violations in Hong Kong and blocks them from entering the United States.

Trump’s signing of the bill grew his popularity in Hong Kong, with the Trump-Rocky photo serving as a fitting symbol of the demonstrators’ approval of the president.

The Post noted that some protesters even sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” during the demonstration.

Pro-democracy protests have gone on for months in Hong Kong, escalating in recent weeks as demonstrators have clashed with police. The uprising was initially sparked by a bill that would have allowed some citizens to be extradited to mainland China. The bill has since been withdrawn, which did little to quell the protests.

Trump signs bills backing Hong Kong protesters

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNBC)

 

Trump signs bills backing Hong Kong protesters into law, in spite of Beijing’s objections

KEY POINTS
  • President Trump signs two bills backing Hong Kong protesters, the White House says in a statement.
  • The president says he “signed these bills out of respect for President Xi, China, and the people of Hong Kong.”
  • He also says he hopes “Leaders and Representatives of China and Hong Kong will be able to amicably settle their differences.”
GP 191127 President Trump Pardons National Thanksgiving Turkey
U.S. President Donald Trump with first lady Melania Trump looking on in the Rose Garden of the White House November 26, 2019 in Washington, DC.
Drew Angerer | Getty Images

President Donald Trump has signed two bills supporting the Hong Kong protesters into law on Wednesday, despite Beijing’s repeated objections.

“I signed these bills out of respect for President Xi, China, and the people of Hong Kong. They are being enacted in the hope that Leaders and Representatives of China and Hong Kong will be able to amicably settle their differences leading to long term peace and prosperity for all,” Trump said in a statement released by the White House.

Congress sent the bills to the president’s desk last week, after both chambers passed the legislation with overwhelming bipartisan support.

The first bill would require the State Department to certify once a year that Hong Kong is sufficiently autonomous to retain its special U.S. trading consideration — a status that helps its economy. Under that designation, the city is not subject to the tariffs that have been levied on China. The bill also sets up the potential for sanctions on people responsible for human rights abuse in Hong Kong.

The second measure would bar the sale of munitions such as tear gas and rubber bullets to Hong Kong police.

Hong Kong, a former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997, has been engulfed in months of anti-government protests. Initially sparked by a bill that would have enabled extradition to mainland China, the protests have morphed into broader anti-government demonstrations, including a wider range of demands such as greater democracy and universal suffrage.

VIDEO03:36
China decries House bill, calls it the ‘Support Violence in Hong Kong Act’

As the protests more frequently lapsed into violence, U.S. lawmakers increasingly criticized China’s response to the protests.

Trump’s Wednesday statement echoes his earlier comments that China should handle the situation itself. Though he has also warned that harsh treatment of the people in Hong Kong could derail trade negotiations.

Trump signed the bills into law as he tries to reach a “phase one” trade deal with Beijing, which has repeatedly condemned the legislation as meddling in its domestic affairs. The Hong Kong government has also spoken out against the bills, saying they are “unnecessary and unwarranted.”

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, one of the sponsors of the Hong Kong rights bill, said he applauds Trump “for signing this critical legislation into law.”

“The U.S. now has new and meaningful tools to deter further influence and interference from Beijing into Hong Kong’s internal affairs. Following last weekend’s historic elections in Hong Kong that included record turnout, this new law could not be more timely in showing strong U.S. support for Hong Kongers’ long-cherished freedoms,” Rubio said in a statement.

VIDEO01:54
Hong Kong markets jump following pro-democracy candidates’ landslide victory

Over the weekend, Hong Kong democrats swept district council elections as 2.94 million cast their ballots, a record turnout of about 71.2%. While those seats largely focus on local issues like bus routes, some district councilors will also join the Election Committee which nominates and votes on candidates for the city’s leader.

Senate Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Jim Risch, R-Idaho, said the legislation is an “important step forward in holding the Chinese Communist Party accountable for its erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy and its repression of fundamental human rights.”

— CNBC’s Jacob Pramuk contributed to this report.

Hong Kong: China deploys troops and warns SURRENDER is only option

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE UK EXPRESS NEWS)

 

Hong Kong chaos: China deploys troops and warns SURRENDER is only option

CHINA has sent troops to Hong Kong in a bid to restore order following the months of violent riots, warnings it will not allow the city to spiral into chaos.

Hong Kong: Police fire tear gas at protesters

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This comes after police said the demonstrators inside the Polytechnic University in Hong Kong had no option but to come out and surrender. The protests began peacefully in June and were sparked by proposed legislation that would have meant criminal suspects could be extradited to the mainland. Although the bill was withdrawn, the protests had broadened into a resistance movement against the territory’s government and Beijing.

Many of the protesters wear masks to shield their identities for protection.

China’s ambassador to Britain accused the UK and the US of meddling in the country’s affairs and warned that the Chinese government “will not sit on our hands” if the Hong Kong situation “becomes uncontrollable”.

Cheuk Hau-yip, the commander of Kowloon West district, said: “These rioters, they are also criminals. They have to face the consequences of their acts.

Hong Kong protester

China has warned they will cease control of Hong Kong (Image: GETTY )

Hong Kong protests

The protests kicked off in June and have strengthened in size (Image: GETTY )

“Other than coming out to surrender, I don’t see that there’s any viable option for them.”

China’s ambassador to Britain Liu Xiaming has said that China has the “resolution and power” to end Hong Kong unrest amid protests.

Liu said that the People’s Liberation Army could be deployed in Beijing, warning: “They are already there in the Hong Kong garrison. They are there to show sovereignty and are responsible for defence purposes.

SEE MOREHong Kong protests: 800 students under siege in university

Hong Kong protesters

Protesters do not want Hong Kong to lose its autonomy (Image: getty )

“If the situation becomes uncontrollable, the central government certainly would not sit on our hands and watch. We have enough resolution and power to end the unrest.”

This comes as China has denounced a Hong Kong court ruling declaring the government’s mask ban unconstitutional.

This decision has been seen as “seriously weakening” the power of the Hong Kong chief executive.

Chris Tang, Hong Kong’s new police commissioner, said in an interview that police alone are not able to end the violence.

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Hong Kong Protests

Protesters have worn masks to protect their identities (Image: GETTY )

Protesters believe the extradition bill is an example of Hong Kong’s eroding autonomy under Beijing.

They worry China is taking back the freedoms given to Hong Kong when the UK returned the territory to China.

Hong Kong police have laid siege to a university, pinning 800 students inside and threatened to use live ammunition on them, as the latest round of anti-government protests escalates.

Hong Kong Protests timeline

The Hong Kong Protests – how they happened (Image: EXPRESS )

China said it is committed to the “one country, two systems” formula granting Hong Kong autonomy, while the city’s police deny accusations of brutality and say they show utmost restraint.

The UK has urged an “end to the violence and for all sides to engage in meaningful political dialogue”.

Pro-democracy lawmakers detained in Hong Kong

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ‘THE HILL’ NEWS)

 

Pro-democracy lawmakers detained in Hong Kong

Pro-democracy lawmakers detained in Hong Kong
© Getty Images

Seven pro-democracy lawmakers either were detained or faced arrest in Hong Kong on Saturday in a move that could escalate ongoing protests against Beijing on the semi-autonomous Chinese island.

Police said three lawmakers were arrested and charged with obstructing the local assembly for their participation in a raucous May 11 meeting over a now-shelved bill that would allow for Hong Kong residents to be extradited to mainland China. The other four lawmakers received summons to arrive at police stations Saturday to face arrest, according to The Associated Press.

All seven are to appear in court Monday.

The move could serve to intensify anger toward the local government a day after demonstrators rushed to the streets to protest the death of a 22-year-old university student. Chow Tsz-Lok was killed this week after falling from a parking garage when police fired tear gas during clashes with pro-democracy protesters.

Chow’s death revived a conversation over alleged abuse of power by local police against demonstrators.

Other pro-democracy lawmakers panned Saturday’s escalation, saying it is intended to provoke more violence to set up an excuse to postpone or cancel district elections scheduled for later this month.

“We’ll say no to their plans,” lawmaker Tanya Chan told a news conference. “It is a de facto referendum for all Hong Kong voters to cast their vote and say no to police brutality and say no to our unjust system.”

Patrick Nip, Hong Kong’s constitutional and mainland affairs secretary, said the arrests were a result of a police investigation and were not tied to the upcoming elections, according to the AP.

Hong Kong has faced months of unrest as protesters have called for a litany of changes, including universal suffrage and an independent investigation into allegations of excessive use of force by police in dealing with protesters.

The protests began with pro-democracy demonstrations against the extradition bill. Protests expanded after the bill was suspended and declared “dead” to include several other demands as concerns grew that Beijing was looking to tighten its control over the territory.

More than 3,300 people have been arrested thus far, according to the AP.

Spain: 350,000 protesters flood Barcelona for separatist ‘freedom’ rally

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES OF INDIA)

 

350,000 protesters flood Barcelona for separatist ‘freedom’ rally

Shouting: “Occupation forces, out!” and “The Spanish flag, out!” they hurled hundreds of multicolored plastic balls and marbles at the riot police guarding the building, who did not respond despite the rising tension.

WORLD Updated: Oct 27, 2019 07:02 IST

Agence France-Presse
Agence France-Presse

Barcelona
Catalan pro-independence demonstrators attend a protest against police action in Barcelona, Spain on Saturday.
Catalan pro-independence demonstrators attend a protest against police action in Barcelona, Spain on Saturday. (Reuters Photo )

Around 350,000 people rallied in downtown Barcelona on Saturday, turning the streets into a sea of independence flags in the latest mass protest against Spain’s jailing of nine separatist leaders.

The turnout figure was given by the local police as vast crowds packed into a wide avenue running between the waterfront and the city’s towering Sagrada Familia basilica, which was closed to visitors.

But as night fell, thousands joined a separate demonstration called by the radical CDR, massing along Via Laeitana outside police headquarters, whose windows were shuttered and the main entrance sealed off with plastic sheeting.

Shouting: “Occupation forces, out!” and “The Spanish flag, out!” they hurled hundreds of multicolored plastic balls and marbles at the riot police guarding the building, who did not respond despite the rising tension.

Catalonia has been gripped by unrest since the October 14 Supreme Court verdict which unleashed a wave of protest that quickly turned violent, with masked demonstrators clashing nightly with riot police.

More than 600 people have been injured in the protests, 367 of them civilians and 289 police, official figures show.

The crisis began two years ago when the region staged a banned referendum on October 1 that was marred by police violence, then issued a short-lived declaration of independence, triggering Spain’s worst political crisis in decades.

Saturday’s main rally was called by the ANC and Omnium Cultural, the region’s two biggest grassroots pro-independence groups that have organised some of the largest separatist protests in recent years.

Marching down the spacious boulevard, demonstrators chanted “October 1, we won’t forgive, we won’t forget”, breaking into loud boos and whistling as a police helicopter flew overhead, an AFP correspondent said.

“I feel really angry,” said computer technician Marc, 26, who did not give his surname.

“The violence doesn’t sit well with me but it’s normal to have a bit of upheaval like we’ve seen in Chile and Ecuador,” he said of a wave of mass protests in Latin America.

“There are different ways of protesting but we have one objective: independence.”

‘Not an option’

But Catalans remain sharply divided over the question of separating from Spain, with polls showing 44 percent in favour and 48.3 percent against.

Speaking to reporters at the rally, Catalonia’s separatist president Quim Torra said his government was with the people “because it is what they want. We will go as far as they want”.

He had earlier pledged to push ahead with the controversial independence drive after meeting 800 local mayors who expressed support for secession.

“The show of unity we’ve seen this week shows the next step that we all must follow… We must all push ahead and exercise the right to self-determination.”

Torra has made repeated appeals for dialogue with the Socialist government of Pedro Sanchez with the aim of securing Madrid’s agreement for a referendum on independence, but they have fallen on deaf ears.

“What we will not talk about is the right to self-determination,” Carmen Calvo, Sanchez’s deputy, told journalists on Saturday.

“If.. the aim is to break up Spain’s territorial unity and separate Catalonia from Spain, we simply cannot talk,” she said. “Unilaterally breaking the rules of the game is not an option.”

Counter rally on Sunday

On Sunday, Catalans who want to remain part of Spain are planning a massive counter-demonstration to raise the voice of the region’s so-called “silent majority”.

“Those who oppose independence are a majority,” said Fernando Sanchez Costa, head of Catalan Civil Society (SCC), telling AFP the unrest was causing a lot of damage to Catalan society.

Earlier, thousands gathered in Madrid in defense of Spain’s unity at a rally organised by the far-right Vox party, which has taken a very tough line on Catalan separatism and wants all regional pro-independence parties banned.

Although the faction only entered parliament in April, polls indicate it might become the third-largest party following the November 10 election.

First Published: Oct 27, 2019 07:01 IST