Catalonians enraged over the imprisonment of separatist leaders are presenting Madrid with one of its biggest challenges in months. The latest violence came as protesters began a three-day march to the regional capital.
Protesters and police in Barcelona engaged in running street battles on Wednesday night, in the third day of clashes in the Spanish region of Catalonia following a court sentencing the leaders of a failed bid to declare independence to prison.
Several thousand people gathered along a main Barcelona avenue, where they were confronted by riot police who charged the protesters and fired foam projectiles.
The regional Mossos police force said protesters set up barricades, threw stones and chemicals at police, and set multiple vehicles ablaze with Molotov cocktails.
The sentencing earlier this week of nine Catalan leaders, including former Catalan Vice President Oriol Junqueras, to jail terms ranging from nine to 13 years has rekindled divisions between supporters of separatism and Madrid.
Acting Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said the government would be firm in stamping out the unrest, which has left dozens injured and arrested over the past three days.
"The Catalan people and all of Spanish society must know that the government is considering all scenarios," Sanchez told a news conference in Madrid.
The latest violence came despite calls from Quim Torra, the leader of the Catalonia region, for protesters to remain peaceful.
"We condemn violence," he said on television. "We cannot let these incidents happen in our country. This has to stop right now."
He had earlier come under criticism from lawmakers in Madrid for not condemning the violence.
"What it is important here is to see these people rejecting the sentences," Torra said while participating in the protest march near the separatist stronghold of Girona. "It's fantastic to see the people mobilizing."
The rolling violent protests came as pro-independence demonstrators set out from five cities across Catalonia on Wednesday and are set to converge on Barcelona on Friday. Organizers expect tens of thousands to rally in Barcelona.
cw/sms (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)