Tags: EU | Spain | Catalonia

Violent Protests Rock Spain, Chile, Hong Kong, Lebanon

Violent Protests Rock Spain, Chile, Hong Kong, Lebanon
Municipality workers clean debris in Barcelona, Spain, Saturday. (AP)

By    |   Saturday, 19 October 2019 04:24 PM

Violent protests around the world rocked parts of Spain, Chile Hong Kong and Lebanon. Here are the latest updates:

Barcelona Mayor Pleads for End to Violence

The mayor of riot-stricken Barcelona pleaded Saturday for calm after violent protests by Catalan separatists rocked Spain's second largest city for a fifth consecutive night.

"This cannot continue. Barcelona does not deserve it," Mayor Ada Colau told reporters, adding that Friday's violence was the worst so far.

Police are bracing for more protests in the coming days.

Radical separatists have clashed with police every night in Barcelona and other Catalan cities following huge peaceful protests by people angered by Monday's Supreme Court verdict that sentenced nine separatist leaders to prison for their roles in a failed 2017 secession attempt.

More than 500,000 people gathered in downtown Barcelona on Friday in a massive show of support for the secession movement that is backed by roughly half of the wealthy northeastern region's 5.5 million voters.

Before night fell, several hundred masked youths had surrounded the headquarters of the National Police and started a street battle that raged into the night in Barcelona, a popular tourist destination.

"The images of organized violence during the night in Barcelona have overshadowed the half a million people who demonstrated in a peaceful and civic manner to show they rejected the verdict," said Catalan interior chief Miquel Buch, who oversees the regional police.

Rioters have burned hundreds of trash bins and hurled gasoline bombs, chunks of pavement and firecrackers, among other objects, at police. They have used nails to puncture the tires of police vans.

Outnumbered officers in riot gear from both Catalonia's regional police and Spain's national police used tear gas and water cannon for the first time on Friday night to battle the rioters.

Residents and tourists have run for cover.

"It has been quite scary," Deepa Khumar, a doctor from Toronto visiting for a medical conference, said Friday. "This place, it looks like a war zone."

Authorities say over 500 people have been hurt this week, including protesters and police, while police have made over 150 arrests.

Spanish Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska said Saturday that 101 police officers were injured on Friday alone and that 264 police vehicles have been severely damaged in the week's riots.

A small group of supporters of Spanish unity approached the police headquarters that has been the focus of separatists' rage to give officers flowers and gifts.

"We feel so anguished," said 54-year-old economist María Jesús Cortés. "There used to be a nice atmosphere here in Barcelona. Everybody with their own ideas, and that was it. We used to live in peace."

Minister Grande-Marlaska asked Catalonia's regional president to explicitly condemn the escalating violence and express his support for law enforcement officials.

"We have gone five days in which there has not been a firm condemnation of violence" by Catalan leader Quim Torra, Grande-Marlaska said.

Torra has called on protesters to respect the non-violent tenets of the separatist movement that has surged over the past decade.

But on Saturday Torra and his vice president, Pere Aragonès, used a televised address mostly to criticize the Supreme Court verdict. Aragonès also insinuated that the national police, which are controlled by Madrid, had acted too aggressively with protesters.

Torra demanded to meet Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to push his agenda for secession and freedom for the prisoners.

"We ask once again the acting Spanish PM to set the date and time to sit with us at a negotiating table," Torra said. "Today this is more necessary than ever before."

The prime minister's office responded that "the government of Spain has always been in favor of dialogue, but within the confines of the law."

Associated Press

Chile President Pinera Declares Emergency

Chile's President Sebastian Pinera declared a state of emergency in the capital Santiago early on Saturday, as the city of 6 million descended into chaos amid riots that left a downtown building engulfed in flames and its metro system shuttered.

Black-hooded protesters enraged by recent fare hikes on public transportation lit fires at several metro stations, looted shops, burned a public bus and swung metal pipes at train station turnstiles during Friday's afternoon commute, according to witnesses, social media and television footage.

Pinera spoke to the nation in the early hours of Saturday, declaring an emergency lockdown as sirens filled the night air downtown, and police and firefighters rushed to contain the damage.

The center-right Pinera said he would invoke a special state security law to prosecute the "criminals" responsible for the city-wide damage, while at the same time saying he sympathized with those impacted by the rate hikes.

"In the coming days, our government will call for a dialog ... to alleviate the suffering of those affected by the increase in fares," Pinera said in the broadcast address.

Chile is one of Latin America's wealthiest nations, but also, among its most unequal. Frustrations over the high cost of living in Santiago have become a political flashpoint, prompting calls for reforms on everything from the country's tax and labor codes to its pension system.

Enel Chile, a subsidiary of Italian utility Enel, said vandals had set fire to the company's high-rise corporate headquarters downtown. Local television footage showed flames climbing up the side of the building as fire crews struggled to break through growing crowds of protesters.

The company said in a statement posted on Twitter that workers had been evacuated safely from the site.

High school and university students began the protests after the government hiked fares on Oct. 6 to as much as $1.17 for a peak metro ride, blaming higher energy costs and a weaker peso.

The protests turned increasingly violent on Friday afternoon, however, and by early evening, officials had closed down all of the city's 136 metro stations, which connect more than 87 miles of track.

The metro system will remain closed through the weekend, with officials saying "serious destruction" made it impossible to operate trains safely.

Demonstrators clanging pots and honking horns clashed with police armed with batons and tear gas all across the normally subdued city late into Friday evening.

Metro management said there had been more than 200 incidents on Santiago's subway system in the previous 11 days, mostly involving school children and older students jumping barriers and forcing gates.

Earlier on Friday, after a meeting with the metro chief and interior minister, Transport Minister Gloria Hutt told reporters the fare hike would not be reversed. She said the government subsidizes almost half the operating costs of the metro, one of Latin America's most modern.

"This is not a discussion that should have risen to the level of violence that we've seen," she said.

Reuters

Hong Kong's Leader Backs Use of Force for 'Illegal' March

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam took to the airwaves on Saturday to back the use of force by police ahead of a major anti-government march planned this weekend in the Chinese-ruled city, which has been battered by months of violent protests.

Following a week of relative calm, Sunday's march will test the strength of the pro-democracy movement. Campaigners vowed it would go ahead despite police ruling the rally illegal.

In the past, thousands of people have defied police and staged mass rallies without permission, often peaceful at the start but becoming violent at night.

The trigger for unrest in Hong Kong had been a now-withdrawn proposal to allow extradition to mainland China, as well as Taiwan and Macau. The case of a Hong Kong man accused of murdering his girlfriend in Taiwan before fleeing back to the city was held up as an example of why it was needed.

Late on Friday the man, Chan Tong-kai, who is jailed in Hong Kong for money laundering, wrote to Lam saying he would "surrender himself to Taiwan" over his alleged involvement in the case upon his release, which could be as soon as next week.

Lam said in an interview on Saturday with broadcaster RTHK that it was a relief as it could bring an end to the case.

She also said that police had used appropriate force in handling the protests, and were responding to protesters' violence, amid criticism of heavy-handed tactics.

More than 2,600 people have been arrested since the protests escalated in June.

Protesters' demands have, since then, swelled far beyond opposing the extradition bill, to take in broader concerns that Beijing is eroding freedoms granted when Britain handed the city back to China in 1997.

China denies the accusation and has blamed foreign nations such as the United States and Britain for inciting the unrest.

The crisis in the Chinese-ruled city is the worst since the handover and poses the biggest popular challenge to China's President Xi Jinping since he took power.

Police have refused permission for Sunday's march citing risks of violence and vandalism, which has increased in recent weeks as protesters dressed in black ninja-like outfits have torched metro stations and Chinese banks and shops.

Rights group Human Rights Watch said the police move appeared to be aimed at dissuading people from attending.

Demonstrations on Friday were calm, with protesters forming a human chain along the city's metro network and many donning cartoon character masks in defiance of a ban on covering faces at public rallies.

Lam this week outright rejected two of the protesters' five core demands: universal suffrage and amnesty for those charged during the demonstrations, saying the latter would be illegal and the former was beyond her power.

Instead she has sought to quell the crisis with plans to improve housing supply and ease cost-of-living pressures.

The atmosphere in the city remains tense.

Prominent rights activist Jimmy Sham was brutally beaten by four men wielding hammers and knives during the week, a move pro-democracy lawmakers said was meant to intimidate protesters and incite violence ahead of Sunday's planned march.

The Hong Kong Monetary Authority, the city's de-facto central bank, said on Saturday that some cash machines will be out of service temporarily, owing to vandalism or to safety considerations.

Reuters

Third Day of Anti-Government Protests in Lebanon​

Tens of thousands took to the streets of Lebanon on Saturday for a third day of anti-government protests, directing growing rage at a political elite they blame for entrenched cronyism and driving the country to the economic brink.

In central Beirut, the mood was fiery and festive, with protesters of all ages waving flags and chanting for revolution outside upmarket retailers and banks that had their store fronts smashed in by rioters the night before.

From the south to the east and north of Lebanon, protesters marched and blocked roads to keep the momentum going despite gunmen loyal to the Shi'ite Muslim Amal movement appearing with firearms to scare them away.

The latest unrest was sparked by anger over the rising cost of living and new tax plans, including a fee on WhatsApp calls, which was quickly retracted after protests - the biggest in decades - broke out.

In an attempt to appease demonstrators, Lebanon's finance minister announced following a meeting with Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri that they had agreed on a final budget that did not include any additional taxes or fees.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun said in a tweet there would be a "reassuring solution" to the economic crisis.

The protests followed a build-up in grievances over perceived government corruption, mismanagement of funds and a failure to address high unemployment.

No leader, Christian or Muslim, was spared protesters' ire, creating a rare unity in a country riven by sectarianism.

At night, patriotic songs blared from loudspeakers in Beirut and fireworks exploded over a sea of people dancing and singing, holding banners reading "unite against corrupt politicians."

"This country is moving towards total collapse. This regime has failed to lead Lebanon and it must be toppled and replaced," said Mohammad Awada, 32, who is unemployed.

Prime minister Hariri gave his government partners a 72-hour deadline on Friday to agree on reforms that could ward off economic crisis, hinting he may otherwise resign.

In a televised speech addressing the protests on Saturday, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said the group was against the government resigning, and the country did not have enough time for such a move given the acute financial crisis.

"Everyone should take responsibility rather than being preoccupied with settling political scores while leaving the fate of the country unknown," he said.

"All of us have to shoulder the responsibility of the current situation that we arrived at," added Nasrallah, whose Iranian-backed Shi'ite group is Lebanon's most influential.

The protests that swept villages and towns across Lebanon recall the 2011 Arab revolts that toppled four presidents.

The Hezbollah leader said he recognized the protests were "honest and spontaneous" but warned that his heavily-armed and powerful group, which backed the president's rise to power, would not permit his downfall.

In southern Lebanon, Amal militiamen loyal to parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri attacked peaceful demonstrators who tore his posters and chanted slogans denouncing him as corrupt. They prevented TV crews from filming the protests.

In the speech, Nasrallah predicted that imposing more taxes would lead to an "explosion" of unrest.

"If we don't work towards a solution we're heading towards a collapse of the country, it will be bankrupt and our currency will not have any value," he said.

"The second danger is a popular explosion as a result of wrong handling of the situation."

Protesters from across the political spectrum filled the streets.

"I am taking part because over the last 30 years warlords have been ruling us. I am about to be 30 and my parents still tell me tomorrow will be better. I am not seeing better days ahead," said Sylvia Yaqoub, 29, a laboratory manager.

"We want back the money they stole because 30 families are ruling five million people. We won't accept this any longer."

Fadi Dhaher, 21, a university student, said his generation felt they had no future. "We are protesting because we don't want to emigrate ... they are pushing us to leave our country."

Government sources said the cabinet might hold an emergency meeting on Sunday to discuss a way out of the crisis.

The budget could help it unlock billions of dollars pledged by international donors who have made their support conditional on long-delayed reforms to curb waste and corruption. 

Reuters

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The mayor of riot-stricken Barcelona pleaded Saturday for calm after violent protests by Catalan separatists rocked Spain's second largest city for a fifth consecutive night."This cannot continue. Barcelona does not deserve it," Mayor Ada Colau told reporters, adding that...
EU, Spain, Catalonia
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2019-24-19
Saturday, 19 October 2019 04:24 PM
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