Fans harass Pique after Catalonia comments

At least 800 people in Spain were injured last week after an independence referendum vote in Catalonia resulted in massive police action and violent clashes.

The streets of Barcelona were flooded with activists last week as the region of Catalonia went on strike, including the Barcelona soccer club, to protest the Spanish police action.

The Catalan region has been autonomous since the approval of the new Spanish Constitution in 1978, and has been inching toward total independence for some time. On 9 June 2017, the Catalan government announced an independence referendum would be held on 1 Oct. 2017.

Spanish courts declared the referendum illegal, but the citizens of Catalonia held the referendum despite the court’s decision. Police action was taken against this, and violent clashes ensued.

The referendum resulted in 90 percent of voters in favor of the split, although voter turnout was only 42 percent. It should also be noted that Spanish police confiscated more than 750,000 votes, which would bring the turnout to around 55 percent.

“With their decisions, they have systematically undermined the rules approved legally and legitimately, showing an unacceptable disloyalty towards the powers of the state – a state that represents Catalan interests,” King Felipe, the King of Spain, said in a statement.

Catalonia’s leader, Carles Puigdemont, said in an interview with BBC that his government would unilaterally declare independence by “the end of this week or the beginning of next.”

King Felipe decided to intervene after 700,000 people gathered in Barcelona, who were protesting the harsh treatment passed out by national forces who tried to prevent the vote from taking place. The focal point of the demonstration was the Barcelona headquarters of the Spanish national police.

The protests were backed by the Catalan government and multiple labor unions, however not all companies joined in on the strike. Spain’s two largest labor unions, the UGT and CCOO groups, along with many private sector businesses did not take part. There were also no reports of problems with big industry or the Barcelona airport, but the world’s most popular sport was affected.

The Barcelona soccer club and two other Catalan clubs in the Spanish soccer league joined in on Tuesday. None of the Barcelona pro or youth clubs were practicing and the headquarters was closed. The Girona club also shut down practice.

One player, Barcelona defender Gerard Pique, was harassed by fans when he reported to Spain’s national team training camp in Madrid last Monday. The spectators jeered, whistled and chanted at Pique to leave the team following his stand against the Spanish government. The fans also held banners carrying insults directed at him.

The team is preparing for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers. This came despite his support of Catalans, and police had to intervene.

The Spanish coach Julen Lopetugui spoke highly of Pique in a radio interview, commenting on his consistent motivation despite the harassment from fans and his commitment to the national team.

Pique has 91 caps and was a member of the squad who won the 2010 World Cup and the 2012 European Championship. He plans to retire from international play following next year’s World Cup in Russia.

He says of the backlash he’s received: “We’re footballers but we’re people too. Why can a journalist or a mechanic express themselves but not a footballer?”

Paul Helmers


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