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Felipe VI visit to Barcelona sparks major protests

A visit from Spanish King Felipe VI to Barcelona on Monday for an awards ceremony has sparked major protests, and which began noisily on Sunday night.

The Premis Princesa de Girona awards are being held in central Barcelona this year because the Girona City Council denied the foundation that gives the prizes use of Girona’s main auditorium in 2018, after declaring Felipe VI persona non grata in the city two years ago.

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The Spanish monarchy has had a poor rating amongst Catalans for many years, but the fallout between many Catalan institutions and Felipe VI increased after the televised speech he gave on 3 October 2017, two days after the Catalan independence referendum.

During the speech, the monarch was highly critical of the Catalan independence movement, and he didn’t mention the violent crackdown against voters by the Spanish National Police and Guardia Civil – that only two days previously had been broadcast around the world.

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Felipe VI’s visit on Monday is also the king’s first visit to the Catalan capital since the sentencing by Spain’s Supreme Court of nine independence leaders to up to 13 years in prison.

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Catalan pro-independence supporters actually started their protest in Barcelona on Sunday evening, with hundreds of people gathering on Barcelona’s Diagonal avenue outside the Palau de Congressos Convention Centre where the ceremony is to take place on Monday evening.

With a heavy police presence around the convention centre, protestors blocked off Diagonal avenue and started a cassolada, which involves banging pots and pans to make a lot of noise.

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The main protest called by the Committees in Defence of the Republic (CDRs) and the Pícnic per la República protest groups is due to take place on Monday evening, when the awards ceremony is scheduled to start at 6pm.

A man holds a picture of Felipe VI upside down during a protest against the visit of the king in Barcelona, on 9 April 2018. (AFP / Pau Barrena)

With Felipe VI widely criticised for not adopting a neutral stance in the Catalan independence conflict, the relationship between Catalan institutions and the monarchy has deteriorated since 3 October 2017, including top officials boycotting events that the king has attended in Barcelona.

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When Felipe visited Barcelona to inaugurate the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in February 2018 – his first visit after his controversial speech – Catalan government and parliament representatives, as well as Barcelona mayor Ada Colau, did not show up at the official reception.

In a recent poll the king received a popularity score of just 1.8/10 from the Catalan public, whilst his few visits to Catalonia since his speech have always been met with protests.

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