VALENCIA, Spain – The president of the southeastern Spanish region of Valencia, along with other prominent local figures, demanded on Tuesday the immediate arrest of those involved in violent attacks by far-right counter-protesters against participants of a march celebrating Valencia’s provincial holiday.
Ximo Puig, who was attending a meeting of the European Union’s Committee of the Regions, told journalists in Brussels that in order to calm the citizenry it was essential to identify and arrest those who had disturbed public order and attacked others during Monday’s incidents in the region’s homonymous capital, Spain’s third-largest city.
“This is the basic step. After that, it’s evident that the (central) government needs to provide the appropriate explanations,” Puig added.
The traditional march that left-wing parties, trade unions and social movements hold each year in support of the Valencian language and culture was disrupted when several men, including skinheads armed with sticks and crowbars, began attacking people, leaving an unknown number injured.
Many attackers sported Spanish flags, regional flags and pro-fascist symbols such as swastikas; several of them were recorded giving stiff-arm Nazi salutes.
They were presumably linked to anti-Catalan organizations and radical groups of supporters of local soccer club Valencia CF, which often clash with left-wing protesters in the city, located 360 kilometers (224 miles) to the east of Madrid.
The political crisis that is currently rocking Spain with regards to the northeastern region of Catalonia’s bid for independence was likely a factor that contributed to the heightened tensions seen on Monday.
The Oct. 9 regional holiday commemorates the date when King Jaume I of Aragon – known as “The Conqueror” – took Valencia from the Moors in 1238 CE, and is sometimes used by Valencian nationalists who believe the region belongs to the wider Catalan-speaking area, the so-called “Països Catalans” (“Catalan Countries”), to promote their independence from Spain.
The region’s vice-president, Monica Oltra, took to Twitter to condemn the attacks: “To those committing violence and aggression in Valencia and to the parties that encourage it: you are not welcome, you do not represent us. Valencia is a city of peace.”
Her party, Compromís (“Commitment”), issued a statement calling for the resignation of the central government’s delegate to the region, Juan Carlos Moragues, alleging he had failed to guarantee the security and right of assembly of the participants in the official march.
Governmental delegates are tasked with coordinating police operations to ensure public safety at demonstrations.
“The government’s lack of foresight has led to numerous aggressions against protesters by extreme-right groups that illegally assembled to sabotage the traditional October 9th demonstration,” read the statement. “We condemn the acts of fascist violence that took place on Monday on the streets of Valencia.”
“A democratic country cannot allow the far right to hijack fundamental freedoms and attack people with total impunity,” it added.
Moragues, on the other hand, thanked the work of law enforcement officers to ensure security and told EFE that participants had been protected by police during the entire march.
He said he had no knowledge of any injuries and that there had been no clashes during the protests, despite several television stations broadcasting violent actions live and numerous videos appearing on social media.
The Mayor of Valencia, Joan Ribó, demanded that Moragues either “meet his obligations or resign” since he was responsible for enforcing the constitution, which he said “was not the case” during Monday’s clashes.
The organizers of the march were forced to alter its planned route due to the incidents, ending it prematurely at a square far from the original location where it was due to conclude.
Several journalists were also attacked, including Miquel Ramos, who posted video footage on Twitter of a woman flinging a liquid – which he claimed was hot tea – at his face, as well as a separate incident in which a man grabbed the phone Ramos was using to record and hurled it to the ground.
TV network La Sexta was forced to interrupt its live coverage because the images, which showed two young women being brutally kicked by several radicals, were deemed too violent for the timeslot’s child protection laws.
Images captured by an epa photographer at the site appear to show at least four people, some of them draped in the Spanish flag and sporting shaved heads, dealing blows with their fists and kicking a young man who had intervened to defend the aforementioned women.
The victim – identified as Vicente D. – later told online daily eldiario.es that the problem was a lack of sufficient police officers to stop the assailants.
“They weren’t clashes between groups, it was one group attacking the other,” he added. “A hunting expedition of the extreme right.”