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Protests greet King Felipe VI in Barcelona

October 9, 2020

The Spanish king and prime minister took part in the Barcelona New Economy Week in order to promote the country's ailing economy. Local politicians chose not to attend, but hundreds of protesters turned up.

König Felipe VI von Spanien in Barcelona
Image: Adria Puig/AA/picture-alliance

Felip VI, king of Spain, and Pedro Sanchez, the country's prime minister, visited Barcelona on Friday only to be met with loud protests and a boycott from high-ranking Catalan politicians.

Read more: Catalan independence - what you need to know

The king and prime minister were in the capital city of the separatist Catalan region in order to award prizes for innovation as part of the Barcelona New Economy Week.

The region's current acting pro-independence president, Pere Aragones, as well as the left-leaning, but nonseparatist mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, refused to officially receive the monarch. Catalonia's previous president, Quim Torra, was recently removed from office by the Spanish Supreme Court.

Heavy security presence

Police cordoned off the Franca railway station where the ceremony took place. The owners of local apartments and shops were told that they must not obstruct the view of all doors and windows so as to allow for maximum visibility.

Around 800 people had gathered to protest the pair's arrival, according to police sources. The protesters burned pictures of Felipe and chanted that "Catalonia has no king."

The protest occurred without any major incidents. The local police, however, took down a large sign that read, "Juan Carlos first, Felipe last." 

Animosity towards the royals

Tensions between the Catalan regional government and Madrid have been on the rise since the central government's prosecution of Catalan pro-independence politicians for their role in the 2017 referendum.

Spain I Conflict in Catalonia
A man sprays an X on a woman's Spanish flagImage: David Oller/Europa Press/dpa/picture-alliance

Not all the acts of protest revolved around the issue of independence. Mayor of Barcelona Ada Colau announced that she would not take part in any events with the royal house until they cleared up some "serious issues" surrounding the former king, Juan Carlos.

The 82-year-old secretly left the country for the United Arab Emirates after getting caught up in a bribery scandal. "The old king fled to a dictatorship. That's not normal in a democracy," Colau said.

'Open and democratic society'

Jaume Collboni, a member of the city council for the regional Socialist party, attended the event. "In an open and democratic society, people may not agree and are free to express that, but we also have respect institutions because they belong to everybody," he told reporters.

The aim of the event was to encourage innovation as a means of restarting Spain's weakened economy. The king, speaking in both Catalan and Spanish, told the crowd that "we have the opportunity to do things better. And to do them together."

ab/sms (AP, EFE, dpa)