The Spanish capital took on the air of a battle zone the weekend after the war began, as antiwar protesters clashed with riot police throughout the city. A bizarre scene greeted nighttime revelers moving between Madrid’s bars and theaters on Friday and Saturday night, as protesters ran down the streets in packs chased by police in black helmets and swinging batons. The city’s emergency services reported that 168 people were injured, including fifty people protesting outside the US Embassy on Friday, according to El País.
On Saturday evening, officers lined Madrid’s main boulevard, the Gran Via, holding black anti-riot shields and occasionally firing shotguns, presumably loaded with blanks, into the air. In Barcelona on Friday, police fired rubber bullets, slightly injuring several protesters.
As the bombs dropped over Baghdad, the demonstrations had a different tone from the ones in the preceding weeks, and by nightfall they had dissolved into anarchy. Dozens of garbage cans were lit on fire, and masked teenage protesters screamed and taunted the armored police arrayed along the streets. Miguel Gamzo, 21, said he is upset that the war has started despite all of the public opposition. “I am angry, but happy at the same time. People came from all over the place to protest the war. It was spontaneous.” Friday and Saturday saw impromptu demonstrations in Madrid’s central square, the Puerta del Sol, drawing tens of thousands of people from all walks of life. Chants ranged from “No a la Guerra!” to “Aznar es idiota!”
Spain has seen more war protests than any other European country, despite Prime Minister José María Aznar’s support of the US and British invasion. In the days before the invasion, Socialist opposition leader José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, whose party has seen a surge of support, denounced Aznar in Parliament: “Most of the people believe you’ve failed and that you’ve lied–lied to this Parliament and to the people.” Polls find that more than 80 percent of the Spanish public opposes the war. “It is like living under Franco again,” said one young protester who declined to give her name. “Except,” she added, “now we can protest publicly.”