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After months in a kind of stand-by, the Catalan independence movement will return to the streets this Friday. The holding of a Spanish cabinet meeting in Barcelona - planned weeks ago - comes at a new moment of tension between the independence movement and the Spanish government, following the presentation of the Catalan exile body Council of the Republic last week in Brussels, the increasingly shrill tone of Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez and the new threats of direct rule of Catalonia under article 155, most loudly from the right wing PP and Cs parties. All this, at the same time as four of the political prisoners continue their hunger strike and as the start date of the independence referendum trial, although still undefined, edges closer.

Although it's still in the air whether a meeting will take place between Pedro Sánchez and Catalan president, Quim Torra, with the objective of reducing tension and returning to dialogue, what is clear is that there will be protests and the city of Barcelona will be in tight security mode. Although the Catalan government is working on a major police deployment - Catalan interior minister Miquel Buch has said it would be the same if it were Emmanuel Macron or Angela Merkel - and is doing so in coordination with the Spanish government, Sánchez is considering bringing a thousand police and Civil Guard officers from outside Catalonia to guarantee security in the event that the Catalan Mossos d'Esquadra police were to fail to intervene.

Thus, the disembarkation of the Spanish prime minister and his seventeen ministers in the Catalan capital is seen as a "provocation" both from the Catalan pro-independence parties and civil society groups, and also from the Catalan government itself. For this reason, several mobilizations are being planned, aimed at showing the independence movement's rejection of the Sánchez government, the government "of an oppressor state" that "abuses preventive prison, which holds political prisoners and manages the conflict through the judicial system by inventing crimes", in the words of the president of the pro-independence group Catalan National Assembly (ANC), Elisenda Paluzie.

In addition, the date chosen for this meeting is considered unfortunate in sovereignist circles, since it marks the first anniversary of last year's Catalan elections, called by the then-Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy under article 155, which yielded a victory by the pro-independence parties, despite the limitations suffered by many of their candidates and the subsequent suspensions of elected MPs as part of the judicial case against the movement. "The oppressor state visits the colony, one year after the pro-independence victory in forced elections," is the summary of the Spanish visit by the ANC, which together with the other major pro-independence civil society group Òmnium Cultural is calling people to protest under the slogan "Let's demolish the regime" - referring to the 'Regime of '78', Spain's current constitutional order.

What protests are planned?

Over recent days the different sectors of the independence movement have been considering what the response on the street. should be. Finally, and although details have still to be defined, it is now clear that all the different points of view within the independence movement will be represented on the street on Friday. Protests will range from a political act taking the form of a "people's cabinet meeting", to erecting "barricades" to try and stop the Barcelona meeting of Pedro Sánchez's government from taking place, ​​as well as a unified mass demonstration in the afternoon starting at Jardinets de Gràcia in the centre of the city.

Massive vehicle protest by the ANC

The ANC wants the independence movement's dissatisfaction with the Spanish government to be palpable in the city ambience all day long. For this reason, the civil group has called a "massive concentration" of vehicles which should head into Barcelona from whereever they are in Catalonia in the early morning. The goal is to paralyze the city and for the protest to be "noisy".

The ANC has also called a second protest at 9am at the Barcelona law courts at Ciutat de la Justícia, where Roger Español, the man who lost an eye to a police rubber bullet during the independence referendum on October 1st, 2017, has to appear in court, where he is being investigated for disorderly behaviour that day.

Omnium "people's cabinet meeting"

The concerns that the mobilizations should be controlled and peaceful have, in the last few days, led parties, civil groups and other organisations to coordinate a response that is "massive" but also "civic" and "peaceful". Despite the different sensibilities and views across the different sectors, a level of unity has in the end been achieved, and Òmnium Cultural's proposal is conceived in this context.

The "people's council of ministers" that Òmnium have called will be the central "political act" on Friday morning. There will be political speeches and musical performances, and it has the support of the pro-independence parties - JxCat, ERC and the CUP - as well as of the ANC, although the latter have also called a major protest of their own. It will also feature the participation of various civil society groups and ONGs in the field of human rights, culture and education.

The act takes place at 11am in front of the Estació de França railway station, just a few hundred metres from where the cabinet meeting will be held at the Llotja de Mar palace. This is also close to the main meeting point of the CDR groups.

The CDRs, blockading the Llotja de Mar

This is the protest which could lead to the greatest tensions, and which the security forces are watching most closely in terms of their police deployment. The CDRs (Committees for the Defence of the Republic) have called for protesters to arrive early in the morning outside the Llotja de Mar, the building where the ministers are to meet, in Passeig d'Isabel II. They want people to take control of the streets and to erect "barricades" to prevent the ministerial meeting from taking place. Under the slogan "On 21st December we will be ungovernable", they assert that "barricades can cut a street, but they open the way."

Other groups such as the Universities for the Republic and the SEPC students' union have also made calls to "empty the classrooms" and "fill the streets" in order to stop the cabinet meeting. As well, the youth branch of the ERC political party have committed themselves to trying to "prevent" the government meeting, while the CUP party says it supports the different protests that will be held on Friday, although it is focused on organizing demonstrations in response to the referendum trial expected early next year, when it wants Catalans to hold protests that will paralyze the country from the very first day in court.

Mass march in the afternoon

This event is, at present, the one which is least-defined. Official social media accounts of the ANC and Omnium have called on the public in the afternoon of 21st December to join a "unity march to show their rejection, massively and peacefully, of the Spanish government's provocation." It will take place under the slogan "Let's demolish the regime", the message also used by the CDRs. The march begins at 6 pm at Jardinets de Gràcia.

Union calls for two-hour strike

Finally, union organisation Intersindical has called for a general strike of two hours, from 12.30pm to 2.30pm, for that same day. The union says it also calling the stoppage for economic and social reasons, since the Spanish government has not withdrawn the decree of October 6th last year which facilitated and encouraged businesses to move business addresses out of Catalonia, and nor has it withdrawn the PP's labour law reform, which damaged workers' rights. In addition, the union group comments that much progressive social legislation passed by the Catalan parliament is "still annulled" - due to the action of the Constitutional Court - and that the increase in the minimum wage to 900 euros, which Sánchez has promised to approve on Friday, is insufficient, and a minimum of 1,200 euros should be set.

Apart from the unknown implications of a possible meeting between Sánchez and Torra, other protest elements are still in the air. It's possible that some groups who have already called protests will add new demonstrations for Thursday, December 20th, as prime minister Sánchez and six of his ministers will arrive in Barcelona on that day to participate in a dinner of the Premis Ferrer Salat, organized by employers' association Foment de Treball. 

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