"Spiral of violence" at Barcelona's mass drinking party: 40,000 attendees, 43 injured and 20 arrested

The City Council asks the Mossos for preventive reinforcement in Plaça Espanya to avoid another night of riots

3 min
Young people at the fountain of Plaça Espanya during the second night of the Mercè festivities

BarcelonaA piece of a bus shelter fell into the fountains on Avinguda Maria Cristina. Broken glass all over the Palau de Congressos and, even so, the mass vaccination point is still active. Car number plates broken among the glass. These are just some of the traces of the lack of control of a mass street drinking party in Plaça Espanya in Barcelona and its surroundings which, tonight, the second night of La Mercè, brought together up to 40,000 people. A leap in scale compared to the 15,000 on the first night. And a leap in scale, too, with respect to the riots. The gathering resulted in 20 arrests and 43 injured, three of them seriously and 13 with stab wounds. Shops on Carrer Creu Coberta were vandalised and robbed.

This is the assessment made by the Barcelona City Council, which insisted on the change of tone from what happened on the first night to the chaos and "vandalism" of last night: Colau's government understands that what happened this morning is no longer a problem of festive occupation of public space for drinking and partying, but is now labelled a "serious" problem of public order - a "spiral of violence", in the words of the deputy mayor for Security, Albert Batlle - and is now knocking on the door of the Department of Home Affairs to ask it to reinforce the arrangements planned for tonight at the scene of the street drinking party.

"We have asked for a preventive reinforcement, not to wait and see what happens", said the mayoress in an appearance on Avinguda Maria Cristina. Until now, the City Council had led the security arrangements associated with La Mercè festivities and the possible street drinking parties and had announced preventive closures, with reinforcement of the Mossos riot police in the 13 venues that were expected to be the most conflictive, and preventive actions to avoid concentrations of people drinking on the street. On the first night of the large gathering under the Venetian towers, there was no preventive action in Plaça Espanya, which was not a dense reinforced space, and no one tried to evict those gathered, because, according to the municipal government, a posteriori it would have made the situation more complicated, but the council was clear that the event would be repeated. "It was foreseeable, but not avoidable", defended Batlle. And it was repeated. And yesterday there were incidents - and the number of people attending more than doubled.

13 stabbings

Among the 43 people who required medical attention yesterday in the mass drinking party on Plaça Espanya there were 13 who were stabbed

Colau has already contacted the Home Affairs Minister, Joan Ignasi Elena, this morning to ask for a "different" plan, given that "red lines" have now been "crossed". The Mossos confirm that they are working to reinforce tonight's arrangements, but some members of the police have not hidden their dissatisfaction with the arrangements planned so far by the city council. According to the account of events given this morning by the Deputy Mayor for Security, Albert Batlle, the "trigger" that set "the spiral of violence" in motion was when, after two in the morning, officers of the Guardia Urbana accompanied members of the Medical Emergency System (SEM) to attend to a stabbed man in the square. This is when the throwing of objects began, when two unmarked Guardia Urbana vehicles were burnt and when the windows of the Palau de Congressos were smashed, both along Avinguda Maria Cristina and along Rius i Taulet. Motorbikes and some of the cypress trees in the square were also burnt.

The big party had an offshoot, in the form of a street drinking party, in the Parc de Joan Miró, in the Esquerra del Eixample, and experienced pockets of conflict until after eight o'clock in the morning. Batlle has defended, however, that last night's arrangements, although they did not prevent the riots, did help to contain the demonstrators so that the disturbances did not spread to neighbouring districts such as Poble Sec, Hostafrancs or the Eixample, although shopkeepers such as those in Carrer Creu Coberta have reported that they suffered damage.

Unlinked to La Mercè

The head of security at the city council reported that, for now, there is no record of any sexual aggression in the square, although he did not rule out the possibility of any news of this happening today. He assured that the incivility seen this morning in Plaça Espanya cannot be compared to anything the city has experienced recently. What the council is not considering is suspending La Mercè programme, which it completely disassociates from the incidents in the street.

The official programme brought together some 105,000 people yesterday and, according to the Deputy Mayor for Culture, Jordi Marti, no call effect was detected between the official stages of the festival, nor from the stages closest to Plaça Espanya, which are those located on the mountain of Montjuïc. As it did yesterday, and in accordance with the capacity restrictions approved by Procicat, the City Council has today made 4,000 more tickets available to the public to attend the Mercè programme, and tomorrow it plans to do the same.