BARCELONA (Reuters) – Catalan protesters burned tyres at several points across the region’s rail network on Friday morning, forcing widespread cancellations in the first signs of trouble on a day known for mass pro-independence protests.
Rallies are planned across the northeastern region later in the day. Over the past years, separatists have been holding major protests in favour of independence from Spain on Sept. 11 to mark “La Diada”, the anniversary of the fall of Barcelona to Spanish forces in 1714.
A spokesman for the rail operator said protesters had set fires in seven or eight places across Catalonia, with the majority concentrated in Girona where all train services have been cancelled.
Services on the high-speed line between Barcelona and Figueres, which connects to France’s TGV network, have been interrupted, rail operator ADIF tweeted.
A few fires were detected in Lleida but the service was operating normally, he said. Technicians were evaluating how to repair the tracks and restore normal service, he added.
Despite appeals from health officials to avoid gatherings amid the pandemic, grassroots organizer Assemblea Nacional Catalana said last week it wanted to hold Europe’s largest coronavirus-adapted protest.
It has planned for later on Friday over 100 gatherings in 82 locations in the northeastern region, in which people would need to keep a distance, wear a mask and have previously registered to attend.
This year, the Catalan separatist government has decided not to attend, urging caution due to the health crisis, although it said it respected the right to protest. The region’s public health secretary and the head of a doctors’ association discouraged such gatherings.
Spain has recorded 554,143 cases since the onset of the pandemic, more than any other western European nation. It reported 13 deaths on Thursday, taking the overall toll to 29,699.
While Catalonia’s separatism drive has dominated Spanish politics for years, it has largely taken a back seat over the past months, both because of the coronavirus crisis and divisions among separatists.
Opinion polls show people in the region are split on the issue of independence.
(Reporting by Nathan Allen and Joan Faus; Editing by Ingrid Melander and Toby Chopra)