Catalan separatists clashed with the police on Saturday in downtown Barcelona as tensions rose ahead of the anniversary of the Spanish region’s illegal referendum on secession, which ended in violent raids by security forces.
Separatists tossed and sprayed colored powder at officers, filling the air with a thick rainbow cloud and covering anti-riot shields, police vans and the pavement on a downtown boulevard in a panoply of bright colors. Some protesters also threw objects and engaged with the police line, which used baton strikes to keep them back.
The clashes erupted after the local police intervened when a separatist threw paint on a man who was part of another march, one in support of Spanish police officers demanding a pay raise. Officers used batons to push back the separatists and to keep the groups apart.
There were more confrontations with the local police as the separatists tried to enter Barcelona’s main city square, where the hundreds of people supporting the Spanish police had ended their march.
The separatist protesters arrived and surrounded the square, chanting, “The streets will always be ours!”
They continued to move toward the other rally, shouting, “Get out of here, fascists” and “Independence.” The police supporters responded by shouting, “We will be victorious” and “Our cause is just!”
Mayor Ada Colau of Barcelona issued a plea for peace on a local radio station when the scuffles broke out.
“I made a call for calm,” Ms. Colau told Catalunya Radio. “This city has always defended that everyone can exercise their rights to free speech.”
The pro-police march had originally been planned to end in another square, home to the regional and municipal government seats, but thousands of separatists gathered in the square to force the regional authorities to alter the route.
The police march was organized by the police association Jusapol, which wants Spain’s two nationwide police forces, the national police and Civil Guard, to be paid as much as Catalonia’s regional police.
Jusapol regularly holds marches in cities across Spain, but Saturday’s march in Barcelona came just two days before Catalonia’s separatists are planning to remember last year’s secession referendum.
The Oct. 1 referendum was marred when national police and Civil Guard officers clashed with voters, injuring hundreds. Images of the national police force in riot gear using rubber bullets and truncheons to shut polling stations and seize ballot boxes spread quickly around the world.
A spokesman for Jusapol told Catalan television TV3 that while the marchers wanted to demand better salaries, they also wished to support the national police and Civil Guard officers who had been ordered to dismantle last year’s referendum.
“The national police and Civil Guard agents who acted last year were doing their duty and now they are under pressure and we have to support them,” said the spokesman, Antonio Vazquez.
Last year’s police operation has become a rallying call for Catalonia’s separatists, who argue that it was evidence of Spain’s mistreatment of the region.
The pro-secession lawmaker Vidal Aragonés called the police march an “insult to the Catalan people.”
“It is not acceptable,” he said. “They have come here to remember the violence that they employed.”
Catalonia’s separatist-led government is asking Spain’s central authorities to authorize a binding vote on secession. Polls and recent elections show that the region’s 7.5 million residents are roughly equally divided by the secession question.