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Catalonian president calls for negotiations with Spain after fifth night of violent unrest

Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Catalonia president Quim Torra has called for talks with the Spanish government after a fifth consecutive night of violence in the streets of Barcelona, and other parts of the region, as anger over the jailing of Catalan separatist leaders continued.

More than half a million pro-independence protesters gathered Friday in the Catalan capital, the local police said, for a peaceful march which converged on the city center.

But violence broke out and fires were set in the evening, leading to 64 people being detained and 89 wounded, according to a spokesman for the Interior Ministry.

Since protests began on Monday, over 300 people have been detained, the spokesman told CNN, with nine remaining in custody, while about 200 police officers have been injured and 171 vehicles damaged.

At a press conference on Saturday, Torra urged Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez to “set day and time for a negotiating table.”

“It is their responsibility and obligation. It is more urgent than ever. We have long demanded it for a political resolution to the conflict,” he added.

The Spanish government responded by saying that Torra had to “strongly condemn” the violence, adding that it was “something he has not done so far.”

A spokesperson for Sanchez’s office told CNN: “In order for the dialogue to be effective, as PSC (Socialists’ Party of Catalonia) leader Miquel Iceta has said, Mr .Torra should recognize the other side of Catalans, who are not pro-independence, and who are demanding to rebuild the coexistence damaged by the independence movement,” adding, “Coexistence, lately, [is] even more damaged by the violent independence movement.”

“The government of Spain reiterates that the problem of Catalonia is not independence, which will not happen, because it is not legal, nor do most Catalans want it, but coexistence,” the spokesperson added.

“His referendum proposal is not wanted by the majority of Catalans or, apparently, the majority of his own government. The first thing to restore is the condemnation of violence, something that Mr. Torra has not done.”

Court ruling spurs protests

The protesters have been out in force every night since Monday, when nine Catalan politicians were handed heavy sentences by the Spanish Supreme Court for their role in an independence movement that tried to separate Catalonia from the rest of Spain two years ago.

Video from the scenes on Friday showed riot police facing off against protestors, some of whom threw objects at the police. Garbage containers were set on fire, a common sight in the past week. The Barcelona City Council said that 700 bins have been burned during the riots over the past three nights.

Trees, pavement, traffic lights and public signs were damaged, with the total cost to the city so far reaching more than €1.5 million ($1.7 million). Dozens of roads in and around Barcelona remained closed to traffic.

Fernando Grande-Marlaska, Spain’s interior minister, told reporters on Saturday that Spanish security forces had done “an extraordinary job” and insisted the state was not overwhelmed.

Grande-Marlaska also criticized Torra for not condemning the violence.

“No one understands that they speak minutes and minutes and do not condemn,” he said. “They must choose the path of the democratic institutions, because there is no other way.”

Earlier this week, Torra — who has been criticized in some quarters for calling for civil disobedience while sending in Catalan riot police to restore order — had blamed the violence on infiltrators trying to undermine the pro-independence movement and also urged an end to such actions.

Heavy sentences for independence leaders

The protests erupted after the Supreme Court judgment Monday. Oriol Junqueras, the former vice president of Catalonia, was sentenced to 13 years in prison and banned from holding public office for the same amount of time. He was found guilty of sedition and misuse of public funds.

Former Catalan foreign minister Raul Romeva, former Catalan government spokesman Jordi Turull and ex-labor minister Dolors Bassa were convicted of the same offenses and sentenced to 12 years in prison. They were also banned from holding public office for 12 years.

Five other officials and activists were sentenced to between nine and 11 years each, with three more people sentenced for shorter periods of time for lesser offenses.

Their supporters accuse Madrid of political persecution and are calling for another independence referendum, which Madrid says would be illegal.

The pro-independence group CDR has called for demonstrators to set up a permanent camp in the city center. Police said that while they know about the plans, no tents have been put up yet.

Earlier on Friday, the Spanish Football Federation postponed El Clasico between Barcelona and Real Madrid until later this month because of the ongoing Catalan protests.

El Clasico is one of the most highly-anticipated events on the football calendar, with the bitter rivalry drawing in millions of viewers worldwide.

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