Riot police made what appeared to be an unprovoked attack on anti-globalisation protesters who had gathered in a Barcelona park yesterday after a march down the city's Passeig de Gracia boulevard.
Thousands of screaming and shouting demonstrators, some with small children, fled in panic as the police, equipped with riot shields, pushed into the crowd, wielding truncheons and firing blank gun shots.
"We raised our arms and shouted, 'Peace, peace', but they just kept coming," said a woman in her 30s who identified herself as Yolanda.
The police waded into the crowd after a small group of masked men and women who appeared to be police agents staged a fight at the edge of the park. A few dozen demonstrators were pulled into the violence. "Police provoked the fight. They were part of it," said Ada Colau, a spokeswoman for the Campaign Against the World Bank, one of the protest organisations.
Observers said the police appeared to stage the scuffle as a bait to lure protesters into it and then use the fighting as a pretext to storm the park. A second assault wave emptied the park within minutes. About 20 people were injured.
The masked assailants, some apparently wearing earphones, had gathered in groups on the fringes of the protest march as it arrived at the park. They were wearing knapsacks and carrying sticks, but were able to walk freely past police, pull on their masks and position themselves between the edge of the crowd in the park and the police lines 25 yards away.
The fight began when one man grabbed another and pulled him to the ground. Others from the same group began kicking and hitting each other. When demonstrators saw what was going on and joined the fight, the police charged into the park. The men and women involved in the original scuffle walked through the police line and boarded the vans.
The organisers of the protest had decided to go ahead with the weekend demonstration despite the World Bank's decision to cancel an annual meeting scheduled to be held in Barcelona this week.
Ms Colau said all other scheduled events had been cancelled, including a mock trial of the World Bank, a pyjama party outside the Stock Exchange yesterday evening and a "tour" of the Stock Exchange this morning.
In the past two years, anti-globalisation activists have been staging regular protests at summits of the World Trade Organisation, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank – institutions that they claim widen the gap between rich and poor.
Some of the protests have resulted in violent clashes with the police – at Seattle in America, Nice in France and most recently at the European Union summit in Gothenburg, Sweden, when three people were wounded by gunshots fired by police.
Ms Colau had said in an interview before yesterday's march that her organisation was "prepared for violence" in case fringe groups or the police instigated it. The theme of the march was "a better world is possible". Protesters ranged from illegal immigrants, seeking the right to work, to trade unions, environmentalists and women's rights advocates. (AP)Reuse content