Catalan Socialist leader punched in face outside cathedral

Pere Navarro has been receiving death threats and insulting calls for weeks, say sources PSC chief blames climate of escalating tension over nationalist independence bid

PSC leader Pere Navarro.
PSC leader Pere Navarro.Toni Garriga (EFE)

An incident in which Catalan Socialist (PSC) leader Pere Navarro was punched in the face outside a cathedral on Sunday is not an isolated event, sources familiar with the situation have told EL PAÍS.

Navarro has been receiving death threats and insulting calls for weeks, the sources said, and the regional Mossos d'Esquadra police have increased security measures for the politician.

Navarro has described this latest attack as a symptom of the current “climate of tension” in Catalonia in connection with the nationalist sovereignty drive. While the Socialist Party rejects full-fledged independence, it is proposing to change Spain’s structure to create an even less centralized state that would give greater power to the regions. But there is a clear division of opinion among members of the Catalan branch of the Socialists, which faces a deep internal crisis over the issue.

The incident took place outside Terrassa cathedral after noon on Sunday, when a woman walked up to Navarro, called him a “son of a bitch” and punched him in the face, before running off. The PSC leader, who was there for a relative’s first communion ceremony and had come without bodyguards, decided to let her go.

Navarro says that the verbal and physical attacks are the result of escalating tension between proponents and detractors of Catalan independence, and of the way regional and national leaders have been handling the issue.

Convergència Democràtica, one half of the CiU nationalist coalition that rules the region, rejected these claims.

Navarro had showed up for the religious ceremony without bodyguards

“The right-to-decide process is being conducted in strictly peaceful and democratic terms, and we will be the first to condemn any action that contradicts this,” said the party's deputy secretary general, Josep Rull. “All assaults are serious, but we cannot share the claim that an isolated event represents an entire category.”

After the incident Navarro called the Catalan government’s commissioner for internal affairs, Ramon Espadaler, to discuss whether he should file a formal complaint. On Monday he confirmed that he would.

Meanwhile, Catalan premier Artur Mas, who was made aware of the incident at around 3.30pm on Sunday, did not send Navarro a message until 9am the next day. The representative of Catalan leftists ERC, Oriol Junqueras, has yet to express any solidarity with Navarro. Other politicians have flooded Navarro with sympathy calls, sources said.

Laia Ortiz, a congresswoman representing the pro-sovereignty ICV party, requested that the punch incident “not be used in a partisan manner.”

But in statements to Cadena Ser and Catalunya Ràdio, Navarro said the woman who attacked him was “a person who expressed her beliefs with a certain degree of fanaticism.” He described her as a middle-aged, middle-class person, and said her attitude illustrated how “the climate of tension keeps escalating.”

“We already noticed the insults and looks of hate during San Jordi Day and at other public events, and finally there has been a physical attack, which may be anecdotal, but is also a symptom,” he said.

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