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Riots darken Catalan separatist dream of peaceful secession

Protesters challenged Spanish police officers during a demonstration in Barcelona on Thursday.
Protesters challenged Spanish police officers during a demonstration in Barcelona on Thursday.Associated Press

MADRID — Catalonia’s separatist leader vowed Thursday to hold a new vote to secede from Spain in less than two years as the embattled northeastern region grapples with a wave of violence that has tarnished a movement proud of its peaceful activism.

‘‘We can’t remain in this cage that keeps adding bars,’’ Quim Torra told Catalan lawmakers. ‘‘If we have been condemned to 100 years in prison for putting out the ballot boxes, the response is clear: We’ll have to put the ballot boxes out again for self-determination.’’

Lengthy prison sentences and fines for a dozen political and social leaders that Spain’s Supreme Court blame for orchestrating the wealthy region’s latest drive for independence led this week to some of the darkest episodes in a decade of swelling separatist sentiment.

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Riots this week have made central areas of Barcelona, a leading European tourist destination, a no-go zone at night. For three successive nights, protests have spiraled into violence, with demonstrators burning half a dozen cars and hundreds of trash cans, causing $1.2 million worth of damage, and eventually clashing with police. Fires also raged in other Catalan towns.

Authorities said that nearly 100 people were injured, almost half of them police officers. A total of 97 protesters have been arrested since Monday.

ASSOCIATED PRESS