Catalonia - Unrest

10 October 2017

Barcelona has seen demonstrations taking place with other regions of Catalonia and these may continue for some days. The secession referendum has deeply divided the northeastern region as well as the Spanish nation. Many thousands have demonstrated against the break away in Barcelona as voters who want to stay in Spain are believed to have boycotted the vote.

Demonstrations intended to be peaceful can escalate and turn confrontational. All visitors to Barcelona should exercise extreme caution while in the vicinity and remain vigilant while in popular areas.

Spain is still on a high threat alert from terror attacks, these can be indiscriminate and may include places visited by tourists.

The emerging situation will continue to be monitored, however Barcelona should be avoided at this time.



On 21 September, dockworkers in Barcelona refused to operate a cruise ship chartered by the national government. The interior ministry had planned to use the Rhapsody cruise ship to house police reinforcements dispatched to the Catalonia region ahead of the controversial independence referendum on 1 October. The ship, which holds up to 2,500 passengers, was one of four such cruise ships chartered by the government. However, the stevedores’ refusal to operate the vessel in defiance of the central government’s authority suggests that the political crisis between Madrid and Barcelona could have wider repercussions on business. 

Spanish courts and the national government have ruled the vote to be illegal, and tensions have escalated in the run-up to the referendum, with detentions of regional officials sparking mass protests. The government in Madrid has sought to apply pressure on the organisers of the vote, and Barcelona has already become a focal point for the standoff between separatist and national authorities. Tensions are likely to continue even after the vote, and further unrest could have a negative impact on transport flows through the city, indirectly affecting operations at the ports of Barcelona and Tarragona, as well as presenting security considerations for staff deployed in the region.


Recent Incidents relating to the Referendum:


Spain : Catalan police chief to appear in court on sedition charges 06/10/2017

The chief of police for the Catalonia region is to appear before Madrid’s national criminal court on suspicion of sedition against the state. The Mossos d’Esquadra police force has been accused of failing in its duties to protect Spanish national police from thousands of protesters outside the Catalan Economy Department in Barcelona on 20 September, before the 1 October independence referendum, which was declared illegal by the government in Madrid and the King of Spain. Catalan officials may declare independence unilaterally within days.


Spain : Madrid moves logistical troops to Catalonia amid tensions over referendum 05/10/2017

Media reports indicated that two convoys of Spanish troops from the Logistic Support Group 41 (AALOG 41) based in Aragon were moved into Catalonia during the night of 3 October. The move comes amid heightened tensions between Madrid and Barcelona following the 1 October independence referendum in Catalonia. The Spanish government also said it will not accept “blackmail” from the Catalan government after the Catalan leader’s decision to schedule an extraordinary meeting of the regional parliament for 9 October to discuss the outcome of the referendum and potentially declare independence from Spain. The referendum, which sparked violence at polling stations, reportedly saw a turnout of 42 percent, but Catalan officials have said that 90 percent of votes were in favour of independence.


Spain : Tensions worsen in Catalonia after independence referendum 04/10/2017

The head of the Catalan government, Carles Puigdemont, has announced that Catalonia will declare independence within days even as the Spanish High Court has reportedly begun an investigation into important Catalan political figures on suspicion of sedition. As many as 700,000 people in Barcelona protested on 3 October against police violence used during the vote, which left up to 900 people injured. There was also a general strike across the region, which caused major disruption to transport and tourism, with operations at both Barcelona and Tarragona ports coming to a near standstill. Tensions between Madrid and the region of Catalonia continue to mount, with Spanish King Felipe VI declaring the independence referendum to be illegal. Protests and strikes are likely to continue, with further disruption to transport and port infrastructure.


Spain : Catalan pro-independence activists, unions call for general strike on 3 October 03/10/2017

Pro-independence groups and trades union in Catalonia have called for a general strike in the region on the 3 October. If the strike goes ahead, transport in the region, as well as port activity at Barcelona and Tarragona, could face disruption. The strike follows the 1 October independence referendum, whose validity has been denied by the government in Madrid and the constitutional court. According to Catalan officials, 90 percent of votes were in favour of independence. The voting saw numerous instances of riot police using force against individuals attempting to vote, with over 800 people reportedly injured.


Spain : Thousands protest, strike over police violence in Barcelona 03/10/2017

Tens of thousands of people protested in Barcelona to denounce police violence during the independence vote on 1 October. Trade unions in Catalonia also led a general strike that closed down businesses. Demonstrators reportedly blocked highways including a long tunnel that joins Spain and France. On 1 October, approximately 2 mn Catalans voted in an independence referendum. The constitutional court ruled that the vote was unconstitutional which prompted the intervention of the police and clashes with secessionist protesters.


Spain : Catalan leader claims victory in contentious independence referendum 02/10/2017

Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont announced that the Catalonia region has won the right to sovereignty, following a referendum on independence that has been outlawed by the Madrid government and constitutional court. During the vote on 1 October, riot police used force to seize ballots and remove protesters and people from voting areas, with more than 800 people reported injured. Madrid has described the referendum as illegal but regional authorities have indicated that they may unilaterally declare independence within 48 hours. Catalan authorities however may yet negotiate with Madrid, given that the outcome of a referendum held under such circumstances will likely be seen as invalid in numerous capitals.


Spain : Referendum commences amid police crackdown 01/10/2017

Voting began in Catalonia in an independence referendum opposed by the national government. Regional officials predicted a large turnout even as national police seized ballot paper and boxes. National police also deployed from Barcelona port to block the vote, and there were reports of riot police turning voters away from polling station. Spain’s El Pais newspaper reported 38 people were injured in clashes outside polling stations. Police confirmed the use of rubber bullets on Sardenya street in Barcelona and officers fired non-lethal projectiles and used batons in other locations. Further clashes are likely as tensions over the vote escalate.

Regional officials said voters could use any station, not just their designated one, after reports of national police removing people from occupied polling stations. Pro-independence activists called for peaceful resistance to any police action. On 30 September thousands of people attended pro-unity rallies in Madrid and Barcelona, underscoring divisions over the vote.