INTRODUCTION Basque nationalists in northern Spain had planned to hold a huge rally in the town of Vitoria on Sunday (10 April) to mark the Basque National Day.
INTRODUCTION Basque nationalists in northern Spain had planned to hold a huge rally in the town of Vitoria on Sunday (10 April) to mark the Basque National Day. But the gathering was banned by the government and an estimated 5,000 police and civil guards converged on the town and set up road blocks to prevent people from reaching the demonstration.
SYNOPSIS: As a result, thee were more law enforcement officers in Vitoria on Sunday than there were demonstrators. The largest group to gather in the town centre numbered only about 1,000 -- and police methods were ferocious. Running battles broke out in the streets, police used batons to break up knots of people and drove demonstrators to seek refuge in churches. At one point a Reuters news agency reporter saw police stop a group of teenage girls and beat them with truncheons.
The demonstrators also had to endure appalling weather conditions -- with snow and freezing cold adding to their discomfort. Many young people were dragged out of bars and hotels where they had sought refuge from the driving snow - to be beaten up by police in doorways, according to Reuters news agency reports from Vitoria. Rubber bullets were also used.
In Vitoria's White Virgin Square the scene was much the same. Police and civil guards outnumbered the demonstrators and smoke bombs were used to disperse groups that managed to assemble. But despite the repression the Basques did make their point. They shouted "dissolution of repressive forces" and unfurled a banner proclaiming the three main nationalist aims -- freedom, amnesty and autonomy. As the demonstrators ducked to avoid rubber bullets they shouted "Is this democracy?"