L’ESPLUGA DE FRANCOLI, Spain (AP) — Hundreds of Catalan independence supporters protested a visit by King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia on Monday to the northeastern region, during a royal tour across Spain meant to boost morale amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The visit came amid mounting media reports accusing the king’s father, former monarch Juan Carlos I, of allegedly hiding millions of untaxed euros in offshore funds.
Prosecutors in the country’s Supreme Court are determining whether Juan Carlos can be investigated for allegedly receiving the funds from Saudi Arabia, possibly as kickbacks for a high-speed railway project. The former king hasn't publicly addressed the allegations against him.
The scandal is the latest to rock the Spanish royal family. In mid-March, it prompted Felipe to renounce any inheritance he could receive from his father and stripped him of the annual stipend he received. Juan Carlos abdicated on behalf of his son in 2014.
With that backdrop, the royal couple launched a visit to all of Spain’s 17 regions that was designed as a show of support for the citizens and the economy as it recovers from the first wave of the pandemic.
The Catalan leg of the tour was initially planned for last week, covering several towns and Barcelona, but the palace said it had postponed it and scaled it back to a short visit to a monastery because of the spike in virus cases in and around the regional capital.
Protesters on Monday carried photos of Felipe upside down and letters completing the sentence “Catalonia doesn't have a king" during a march organized by ANC, the region's largest pro-independence civil society group.
“Are the king and the queen here to promote tourism? What they promote is repulsiveness,” said protester Marta Martí. “They know we don’t want them. But they come here to test our patience.”
Tensions between separatists in Catalonia, which has a population of 7.5 million, and those in support of Spanish unity came to a head in late 2017. A banned referendum was met with police violence, and prompted the prosecution of top elected officials and activists.
“We want democracy, simply democracy,” said school teacher Marcel Barbosa, adding that the king had shown disrespect for Catalans' demands for independence. “They know they are going to lose and that they will need to leave, that’s why we are not allowed to vote.”
The march was headed to the Royal Monastery of Poblet, which the king and the queen were visiting, but police blocked access at the main road. Some of the activists tried to reach the monastery by venturing into nearby vineyards.
Separated by a line of riot police, a dozen people expressed support for the Spanish royals. All protesters left after the end of the visit.
High-speed and regular trains in and out of the northern Catalan city of Girona were also delayed or cancelled due to “acts of vandalism,” according to a tweet by Spain’s railway infrastructure operator, ADIF. A photo circulated on messaging apps showed tires burning on railways next to a sign showing a crossed-out, upside-down image of a crown.
Quim Torra, the head of the Catalan government and a fervent separatist, on Sunday said that he's asked the regional government's legal services to study how a personal lawsuit can be filed against the former king and anybody who was involved in the alleged corruption.
AP reporter Aritz Parra in Madrid contributed to this story.