Spain sees 4th night of riots as government shows strain

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A man sits on a chair in front of a burning barricade as protesters collect objects during a protest condemning the arrest of rap singer Pablo Hasl in Barcelona, Spain, Friday, Feb. 19, 2021. Violent street protests over the imprisonment of a rapper have erupted for a fourth straight night in Spain. Police in the northeastern region of Catalonia said some protesters pelted officers with bottles, stones, fireworks and paint on Friday. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

MADRID – Street protests over the imprisonment of a rapper turned violent for a fourth straight night in Spain on Friday, as political responses to the disturbances strained relations inside the country's coalition government.

Police in the northeastern region of Catalonia, which has seen most of this week's rioting, said some protesters pelted officers with bottles, stones, fireworks and paint in Barcelona and at least three other places. Other protesters set fire to large street trash containers and used them to block streets.

In downtown Barcelona, some people broke into two bank branches and tried to set a fire inside, while others vandalized and ransacked stores, police said. In Girona, another Catalan city, protesters smashed the windows of three banks.

Thousands of people joined the marches, but the violence appeared to come from a smaller group.

The pitched battles raged hours after Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said the violence is “inadmissible,” in comments that accentuated a rift with his coalition government’s junior partner.

In impromptu remarks at the start of a speech about the economy, Sánchez addressed the rioting this week that has ignited a heated debate over the limits of free speech in Spain and a political storm over the use of violence by both the rapper’s supporters and the police.

“Violence is an attack on democracy,” Sánchez said, “and the government will take a stand against any form of violence to ensure people’s safety.”

Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska also stepped into the row, thanking police for their efforts and saying they would continue to “guarantee the rights and freedoms of all society against a minority whose misguided idea of rights makes them have recourse to violence.”