Race clashes fill streets of Catalan town

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The Independent Online
THE ANCIENT Spanish battle cry of "Moors out!" has returned to terrorise thousands of north African immigrants near Barcelona, who have been subjected to savage attacks by racist skinheads. Anti-racist demonstrators were due to stage a march last night against the violence.

Hundreds of youths shouted racist slogans, threw stones and attacked Moroccan-owned shops on Wednesday and Thursday night in Tarrasa, 15 miles north of Barcelona, provoking clashes in which a Moroccan man was stabbed in the street and taken to hospital. Ten vanloads of riot police were sent to the scene, two Spaniards were arrested and police are reinforcing security this weekend to prevent further violence.

Racial tension built up after a clash last Sunday between a Spaniard and a Moroccan in a bar in a working-class area of Tarrasa during a fiesta. The row, in the words of a local councillor, was "the spark that started a fire in a spot where there was too much straw".

Several nights of violent disputes followed between out-of-town skinheads with considerable support from locals, and Moroccans who have been resident in the town for up to 20 years, while riot police tried to break up the scuffles.

"After 20 years of living together, just look what a fight between some youths can do," mourned Mustafa Abajtour, head of Tarrasa's Maghreb Cultural Association. Most immigrants stayed behind locked doors yesterday while some planned to move out of town.

The root of the problem lies in the recent influx of young north Africans without jobs, and often without residence papers. Spaniards complain that the unemployed Moroccan youths hang around squares and playgrounds bothering local girls, intimidating children and dealing in drugs. Police say many pro-Nazi skinheads are themselves drug dealers and speculate that the violence results from turf wars.

Moroccans with shops and businesses in the town say they are taking the brunt of resentment against newcomers, and that they only want to live harmoniously with their neighbours. They say the behaviour of Moroccan youths is no worse than that of their Spanish equivalents although one, who runs an Arab butchers, admits: "They are here alone, without their parents to guide them."

Tarrasa is renowned among progressive Catalans for its bohemian and tolerant racial mix, which produces a jaunty alternative scene and popular jazz clubs. Like many towns in the prosperous but intensely nationalist region of Catalonia, Tarrasa includes Catalans and incomers drawn by the promise of a better life. In the Fifties and Sixties these were Spaniards from impoverished Andalucia. In the past 20 years they have been augmented by north Africans, who now make up about 1 per cent of the town's 160,000 population.

"Second-generation Andal-uces are often more Catalan than the Catalans, but less prosperous; they feel afraid of being swamped by increasing numbers of Moroccans," said a young Barcelona resident yesterday. "I've noticed that street life, which Spaniards so adore, has been tenser and heavier this summer."