The Aragonese delegation which left the Museum of Lleida this afternoon bearing a collection of long-disputed artworks arrived at the Vilanova de Sixena monastery shortly before 3:30pm.
The Civil Guard, shortly after 2pm, carried away the Sixena artworks after a long morning of tension due to the police presence at the museum. Police agents had entered at 3:30am to start removing the 44 pieces. They had had permission to do so since midnight, based on a decision by a judge in Huesca, Aragon. 10 vehicles from the Spanish police were brought to load all the works.
Some fifty people gathered in front of the museum after the Civil Guard entered.
Translation: The public has gathered in front of the Museum of Lleida after the Civil Guard and specialists entered early this morning to take away the Sixena works.
The Mossos d'Esquadra (Catalan police), however, had protected the entrance to prevent anyone unauthorised from entering.
In fact, dozens of metal barriers had already been set up at the museum yesterday at the request of the Mossos.
The judge of Huesca's court of instruction number 1 signed an order last Thursday authorising the Civil Guard to enter the museum "even" by "force" to remove the 44 artworks originally from the Sixena monastery kept there.
The text allows the Civil Guard and any other security force as they see fit to enter the museum from 12am on Monday 11th December. This, the magistrate says, is to "guarantee" access to the site for staff from the government of Aragon or the specialists designated by them, and for staff of the specialist company contracted by the Aragonese executive.
Aragon reports one piece is missing
With the works still on the road to Aragon, the autonomous community's government announced a problem with the delivery. Aragon's Education, Culture and Sport minister, Mayte Pérez, reported that one of the 44 pieces meant to be moved to Sixena was missing and that some are "very deteriorated", to the point that she admitted that in some specific cases they will be "difficult to recover". From her point of view this "shows up Catalonia's work" after they expressed doubts about the ability of the monastery to properly conserve the works.
Pérez explained that the "missing" piece is an 18th century painting and warned that they will ask the relevant authorities for an explanation. She also noted that two pieces were missing in the transfer of other Sixena works from a different Catalan museum last summer. The minister also attacked Spain's Culture minister, Íñigo Méndez de Vigo, describing his comment that the operation was carried out "with normality" as a "provocation".
Confrontations between police and protesters
Before 9am there were almost 200 gathered at the doors of the museum, some of whom tried to break through the police cordon, causing confrontations.
The demonstrators wanted to create their own cordon to block the museum's doors, but the police managed to stop this. Then they continued pushing the human barrier back.
In a message on Twitter, the museum themselves asked for no force to be used against peaceful protesters: "We're receiving news from outside which is worrying us. Please, don't charge against people who are protesting peacefully. Thank you all!"
Ens arriben notícies de fora que ens fan patir. Si us plau, no carregueu contra persones que es manifesten pacíficament. Gràcies a tothom!— Museu de Lleida (@museudelleida) 11 de desembre de 2017
Puigdemont: "They're using a coup to loot Catalonia"
Many politicians reacted to the news, with Catalan president Carles Puigdemont saying that they're using a "militarised police" at the same time as taking advantage of a "coup d'état to loot Catalonia with absolute impunity".
Amb nocturnitat i utilitzant una policia militaritzada, com sempre, tot aprofitant un cop d'estat per espoliar Catalunya amb absoluta impunitat. Aquest és el model de país que defensen Ciudadanos, PSC i PP. https://t.co/z7gUPr6yy2— Carles Puigdemont (@KRLS) 11 de desembre de 2017
By night and using a militarised police, as always, taking advantage of a coup d'état to loot Catalonia with absolute impunity. This is the model for the country defended by [pro-union parties] Ciudadanos, PSC and PP.
For her part, the general coordinator of Puigdemont's PDeCAT party, Marta Pascal, sent a tweet encouraging voters to "sweep out the three parties of the [article] 155 [intervention in Catalonia] on the 21st at the ballot box".
L'abús i el desvergonyiment d'un Estat autoritari arrabassant les obres de Sixena. Escombrem el tripartit del 155 el proper 21 a les urnes— Marta Pascal (@martapascal) 11 de desembre de 2017
The abuse and the cheek of an authoritarian state seizing the Sixena artworks. We will sweep out the three parties of [article] 155 at the ballot box on 21st December.
Boya: "The state has come to look for its spoils of war"
The head of the candidacy list for CUP for the Lleida constituency, Mireia Boya, has accused the Spanish government of collecting its "spoils of war" this Monday.
"The Spanish state has come to humiliate us, they've come here to look for their spoils of war", complained Boya, who said that it wasn't a question of "art or justice". She called on the city's mayor, Àngel Ros, to never again go within 500 metres of the museum because "the people are very angry and have long memories". In her opinion, he should resign over his support for the intervention in Catalonia through article 155 of the Spanish Constitution. Ros had been to the museum before dawn.
The head of CUP's lists for the 21st December Catalan election, Carles Riera, said that the transfer is "an act of occupation and plundering". "It's a classic of all colonial occupations: coup d'état, occupation and plundering", he said in an interview with Catalan public radio saying the action derives from the application of article 155.
Tardà: "They make force prevail over intelligence"
ERC's spokesperson in the Spanish Congress, Joan Tardà, was in Lleida, at the doors of the museum with the protesters. "We're facing another example of the Spanish state wants to make force prevail over intelligence", said the spokesperson, adding that it's a demonstration "of what happens and will happen if the supporters of article 155 end up governing the country".
ERC's number 2 for the elections, Marta Rovira, called the judge's authorisation of the use of force to carry out the order as "excessive". The party regrets that, with this transfer of property, they will be exhibited and accesible to the public in another situation, and insists that, for cultural and heritage reasons, they should never have been moved: "We respect the judicial decision but don't share it".
Iceta: "The transfer is a mistake"
The first secretary of anti-independence PSC party and election candidate, Miquel Iceta, described the transfer as a "mistake". "The decision is a legal one and has nothing to do with article 155", he says, because it is a case that had moved into the courts and which doesn't figure in any of the Spanish government's decrees relating to the intervention in Catalonia.
Rajoy: "Legal decisions have to be followed"
The Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, justified the move saying that the judicial resolution has to be carried out. "Judicial resolutions have to be followed and if someone believes not and wants to substitute for the judge they should say so, but that isn't how a democracy normally works," he said. He also avoided on commenting on the tension between the police and protesters and on the transfer coming in the middle of the election campaign.
The president of the Catalan branch of Rajoy's PP party and election candidate, Xavier García Albiol, also noted that the police and specialists are obeying "the resolution of a judge". "These works have to be removed from the Museum of Lleida, and in my understanding the only thing the Civil Guard and the Mossos are doing is obeying this judicial order", he said in an interview on Catalan radio.