BARCELONA (Reuters) – Barcelona paid tribute on Friday to the victims of a militant rampage last year which killed 16 people, but a call from victims’ families to put aside divisions over independence ambitions for the surrounding region of Catalonia was not heeded by all.
On Aug. 17 2017, a young man drove a rented van into crowds on a central boulevard, killing 14 and injuring over a hundred in Spain’s worst attack in over a decade. Another man died during the attacker’s getaway, and a woman was killed in a strike the following day in the coastal resort of Cambrils.
Spain’s King Felipe, Queen Letizia and Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez joined the crowd for a ceremony at a central square where a choir sang and people read poetry in different languages.
Families of the victims, many of them weeping, laid flowers at a mosaic on the Ramblas street where the van attack took place.
The relatives had asked for a truce for the occasion in the messy politics ensuing from a declaration of Catalonian independence last October which prompted Madrid to impose direct rule, but tensions crept in.
One group marching down the Ramblas with anti-Spain banners traded insults with a group holding the Spanish flag and some of the rival camps pushed each other as police tried to maintain calm.
Catalan society is deeply divided over the question of independence, with a closely-watched poll from the Centro d’Estudis d’Opinio in July showing the proportion of Catalans who want to be an independent state at 46.7 percent.
King Felipe, who made an unusual political intervention to criticize the independence drive, was met by both cheers and jeers when he arrived, and a banner reading “The Spanish king is not welcome in the Catalan countries” hung from one building.
Sanchez has been working to defuse tension with regional authorities since taking over the premiership in June from Mariano Rajoy, whose government presided over a police crackdown on an Oct. 1 referendum.
Some of the people attending Friday’s events said they were not happy with the king’s presence there.
“I absolutely disagree,” said administrative worker Nati Puigbarraca. “We all know what has happened in Catalonia, there is a political situation but it goes beyond that. Some of us will never forgive what happened on Oct. 1.”
(Reporting by Miguel Pereira; Writing by Isla Binnie; Editing by Toby Chopra)