BARCELONA, Spain -- Clashes erupted Friday in central Barcelona between riot police and dozens of people in a hundreds-strong crowd protesting the mandatory closure of bars, restaurants and other businesses as authorities struggle to rein in a sharp coronavirus resurgence.
The evening riots were the most violent that Spain has seen so far against pandemic-related restrictions, and followed similar unrest in France, Italy and other European countries. Police said two people were arrested.
With a caseload that accumulates more than one million infections, and new outbreaks that are pushing the country’s public health system against the ropes, most Spaniards have again been subjected to travel bans, curfews and caps on social gatherings.
Under a new nationwide state of emergency — the second this year — declared this week and expected to last until May next year, all 19 of Spain's autonomous cities and regions have been imposing different sets of restrictions.
Some of the toughest have been introduced in the northeastern Catalonia region that includes Barcelona, where officials have closed down the hospitality industry, imposed a 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew, and banned all but essential weekend travel in and out of local areas.
In the latest protest against the measures, police in the regional capital used batons to disperse crowds hurling bricks and metallic fences protecting the buildings hosting the regional and local governments' headquarters. The angry protesters then separated in groups to narrow streets in Barcelona's gothic quarter, setting trash containers on fire to serve as barricades.
The call to protest had spread in social media with flyers. Rioting began within minutes of the gathering when some of the protesters removed their surgical masks and shouted “This is theft! This is a scam!”
Some protesters also accused authorities of lying about the seriousness of the outbreaks to justify curbs on personal freedom.
Health Ministry data showed 25,595 new coronavirus infections confirmed on Friday, a new record that brings the total caseload since February to 1.18 million. The government last week admitted that the real tally, including missed cases, could be well over 3 million infections.
With 239 new fatalities, the total death toll rose Friday to 35,878.
Aritz Parra in Madrid contributed to this report.
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