BARCELONA (AFP) – The world’s largest phone show opened in Barcelona yesterday with a visit by King Felipe VI as tensions run high just months after Catalonia’s failed bid to break from Spain.
The king is a divisive figure in the northeastern region since he made a stern speech in October denouncing the secession attempt by Catalan leaders.
On Sunday evening, several small pro- and anti-monarchy protests hit the Mediterranean seaside city during an inaugural ceremony for the Mobile World Congress (MWC), highlighting divisions in the region over independence.
During the ceremony, Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau and regional parliament speaker Roger Torrent, a separatist, refused to follow protocol and officially welcome the king.
On her Facebook page, Colau – who is not a separatist – said it was due to his October speech denouncing Catalonia’s bid to break from Spain, just days after a banned independence referendum was marred by police violence.
“The king didn’t make even the smallest gesture of empathy towards people who suffered and made a hardline speech endorsing the repressive line instead of trying to ease the conflict and bring serenity, as expected of a head of state,” Mr Colau wrote.
But she did accompany him to MWC yesterday.
The failed bid to break from Spain brought huge uncertainty to the northeastern region, with more than 3,000 companies moving their legal headquarters out of Catalonia.
At the time, there had even been speculation that this year’s MWC would be delayed with organisers saying they were “continuing to monitor developments” in Catalonia’s secession crisis.
Following a declaration of independence by regional leaders on October 27, Madrid imposed direct rule on Catalonia, sacked its separatist government, dissolved its parliament and called snap regional elections.