Violence erupts as premier visits University of Barcelona

January 29, 1999

The Autonomous University of Barcelona has declared Spanish prime minister Jose Mar!a Aznar persona non grata after a visit to the campus ended with an "unprovoked" attack on students by police.

Students protesting against Mr Aznar's policies on higher education were dispersed by police wielding truncheons and firing rubber bullets.

According to a report issued by the rector's office, police ignored an initial agreement to let the university's own security service take care of events and attacked the students without provocation.

Around 50 students gathered in the road outside the National Microelectronics Centre, which the prime minister was due to visit, with only 14 police initially present to contain the crowd. Some students shouted insults and a few began to push their way forward.

Joaquim Peral, the university's head of logistics, was injured while trying to mediate and by the end of the day casualties included 11 students, two more members of staff and five police.

"During the last quarter of an hour, the police stopped trying to disperse the students and began an indiscriminate chase," the report said. The demonstrators were chased inside the university grounds, rubber bullets were fired directly at the crowd and students and staff who had nothing to do with the demonstration were caught up in the mayhem.

Spanish home secretary Jaime Mayor has since admitted there was a "lack of foresight" in organising police operations. However, he lays the blame at the feet of student agitators who were among the demonstrators, ten of whom he has identified as belonging to radical Catalan independence groups.

"There is a false version of reality," said Eladio Jare$o, spokesperson at the government office in charge of police in Catalonia. "It looks as if the police started everything, but this is not so," he added.

The next day 4,000 students marched through Barcelona and the university has since voted to declare the prime minister and the police force persona non grata.

Opposition politicians and political allies have criticised the behaviour of the police. Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, spokesperson for the Socialist Party, compared the incident to student protests during the time of Franco when the police habitually used violence to put down demonstrations on campus.

The affair comes at a bad time for Mr Aznar who is busy with a rebranding of his right-wing Popular Party as the party of the political centre.

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