Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez faced boos and angry protests during a visit to Barcelona on Monday following a week of Catalan unrest over lengthy prison sentences handed to pro-independence leaders.
Hundreds of demonstrators blockaded the office of the Spanish government’s delegation in Barcelona after it was reported by several media that Mr Sánchez was planning to attend a meeting there.
When Mr Sánchez arrived at Hospital Sant Pau to visit police officers injured in last week’s clashes with demonstrators, protesters gathered outside, jeering the Spanish leader and shouting: “Freedom for politician prisoners!”
Videos from inside the hospital showed the chanting continuing as Mr Sánchez walked along a corridor, with hospital workers in white gowns also shouting slogans such as "Shameless!"
Mr Sánchez left Barcelona shortly after midday, and a spokesperson from his office denied claims that the protests had forced him to abandon the visit to the delegation, saying no such meeting had ever been scheduled.
Politicians from Catalan separatist forces and Left-wing parties slammed the Spanish leader’s decision to visit the region without taking the opportunity to meet its president, Quim Torra, after a week of chaos on the streets.
Close to 600 people have been injured in confrontations with security forces, including 288 police officers. Mr Sánchez also drew criticism for failing to express any concern for injured protesters, with human rights groups such as Amnesty International having raised concerns about the use of excessive force by riot police.
The protests broke out a week ago when Spain’s Supreme Court sentenced nine separatist leaders to up to 13 years in prison for sedition over the banned independence referendum of October 2017.
“He either doesn’t want to, cannot or doesn’t know how to find a solution to the situation,” said Laura Borràs, spokeswoman for Mr Torra’s Junts per Catalunya party.
Mr Torra’s office released a video showing a moment in which he is told that Mr Sánchez is too busy to take his call, one of several attempts the Catalan president says he has made to talk to the Spanish prime minister in recent days.
On making the surprise announcement that he was to visit Barcelona on Monday morning, Mr Sánchez sent a letter to Mr Torra demanding he condemn violence in a clear way and offer support for Spain’s security forces.
Left-wing Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau joined the criticism of Mr Sánchez’s refusal to listen to the Catalan government’s position. “While dialogue may not be possible, I appeal to the two leaders, Sánchez and Torra, not to exhibit their disagreements," she said. "If you want to talk, you can find a way.”
Pablo Iglesias, the leader of Spanish Left-wing party Podemos, said Mr Sánchez’s refusal to speak to Mr Torra was “a joke”.
“No one understands that they are not speaking to each other. This is not about whether they get on or feel like talking – it’s about institutional responsibility.”
But Pablo Casado, the leader of Spain’s main opposition conservative Popular Party, said Mr Sánchez needed to take a harder line. The prime minister, he said, should write a letter to Mr Torra and demand loyalty or launch the constitutional procedure to suspend Catalonia’s autonomy.
Also on Monday, Carles Puigdemont, the self-exiled former Catalan president who Madrid is seeking to extradite from Belgium, accused the Spanish state of dirty tricks after the home and office of his lawyer was raided.
Gonzalo Boye was reportedly targeted on suspicion of money laundering, in connection with another client who is a convicted drug trafficker. But Mr Puigdemont alleged the authorities were trying to "make his work difficult" just ahead of an extradition hearing.