Violence flares as protests over jailing of Spanish rapper extend into fifth night

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Demonstrators march during a protest condemning the arrest of rap singer Pablo Hasél 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/Emilio Morenatti)

BARCELONA (Reuters) — Protesters threw bottles at police, set fire to containers and smashed up shops in Barcelona on Saturday in the fifth night of clashes after a rapper was jailed for glorifying terrorism and insulting royalty in his songs.

The nine-month sentence of Pablo Hasel, known for his virulently anti-establishment raps, has sparked a debate over freedom of expression in Spain as well as protests which have at times turned violent.

Demonstrators hurled projectiles and flares at police, who fired foam bullets to disperse the crowd, the Mossos d’Esquadra, the Catalan regional police, said on Twitter.

About 6,000 demonstrators gathered in the Catalan city, local police said.

Protesters attacked shops on Barcelona’s most prestigious shopping street, Passeig de Gracia, while newspaper El Pais reported that others had smashed windows in the emblematic Palau de la Musica concert hall.

In Madrid and other cities, demonstrations were peaceful.

Earlier Socialist Party President Cristina Narbona condemned the violence which has marked protests over the past four nights.

“We reiterate our strongest condemnation of violence which cannot be justified as a defense of the freedom of expression,” she said.

During the first three nights of demonstrations, police fired tear gas and foam bullets at demonstrators who set fire to trash containers and motorcycles and looted stores. There were also clashes in the capital Madrid and other cities.

Officials said four people were injured in Barcelona on Friday after protesters pelted police with projectiles, attacked two banks and set fire to containers. Protesters caused 128,000 euros ($156,000) in damages, the city council said.

More than 60 people have been arrested across Catalonia, police said. One woman lost an eye during clashes in Barcelona, triggering calls from politicians to investigate police tactics.

Oscar-winning actor Javier Bardem was among artists, celebrities and politicians who called for a change in the law covering freedom of expression. The Spanish government announced last week it would scrap prison sentences for offences involving cases of freedom of speech.

Reporting by Graham Keeley, Michael Gore, Susana Vera, Albert Gea, Nacho Doce and Elena Rodriguez; Editing by Jan Harvey

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