August 17, 2018 / 10:49 AM / a month ago

Barcelona remembers Islamist attacks as political tensions remain

BARCELONA, Aug 17 (Reuters) - Barcelona paid tribute on Friday to the victims of a jihadist militant rampage last year which killed 16 people, against a backdrop of simmering resentment over Madrid’s treatment of a drive for independence for the surrounding region of Catalonia.

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.

Crowds filled a central square for a ceremony attended by Spain’s King Felipe, Queen Letizia and Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez. A choir sang and people read poetry in different languages.

Earlier on Friday, relatives of the victims, many of them weeping, laid flowers at a mosaic on the Ramblas street where the van attack took place.

Families of the victims had asked for a truce in the messy politics ensuing from a declaration of independence last October, which prompted Madrid to impose direct rule.

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.

Sanchez has been working to defuse tension with Catalan authorities since taking over the premiership in June from Mariano Rajoy, whose government presided over a police crackdown on an Oct. 1 referendum.

But King Felipe, who made an unusual political intervention to criticise 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.

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)

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