Protests re-erupt over Spanish royals' visit before Sunday voting
An aerial view of people waving a giant Catalan pro-independence "Estelada" flag during a demonstration, in Barcelona, September 11, 2019. /VCG Photo

An aerial view of people waving a giant Catalan pro-independence "Estelada" flag during a demonstration, in Barcelona, September 11, 2019. /VCG Photo

Several thousand demonstrators banged on kitchen pots and chanted "Catalonia has no king!" on Monday in protest against a visit by the Spanish royal family to the capital of the region that has been hit by weeks of separatist protests, bringing the crisis to another stage ahead of the Sunday election.

Attended by King Felipe, his wife Queen Letizia and two daughters, the venue of the Princess of Girona young talent awards ceremony in Barcelona was heavily guarded by police who had installed heavy fences and blocked vans to one of the city's main thoroughfares. 

"Nowadays, there can be no space for violence, intolerance or disregard for the rights and freedoms of others," King Felipe said during his speech at the ceremony, referring to Catalonia, while his pictures being burned by some protests in the streets. 

Dolors Aguilera, 70, said the king's presence in Barcelona was a provocation. 

"We have political prisoners in jail. We cannot accept it," she said. 

The mass protests were triggered by the Spanish Supreme Court's sentencing of nine separatist leaders on October 14 to prison terms of between nine and 13 years on charges of sedition for their role in Catalonia's failed independence bid in 2017. 

Candidates clash over Catalonia issue in electoral debate 

The rekindled Catalonia crisis has also further complicated the country's fragmented political environment as Spain prepares for its fourth election in as many years on Sunday after having been without a proper government for months. 

The main hopefuls clashed on Monday over how to handle Catalonia's independence drive, ahead of a repeat election that opinion polls show could be as inconclusive as the one in April. 

Independence is highly divisive in Catalonia, with an opinion poll in July showing 44 percent backing secession and 48.3 percent opposed. 

"You don't believe in the Spanish nation," the leader of the conservative People's Party (PP), Pablo Casado, told acting Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, accusing him of being too soft on the Catalan separatists. 

Sanchez, a Socialist, is leading in opinion polls but has lost support, while right-wing parties have grown more popular since last month's rallies in Catalonia saw some protesters wreak havoc and throw Molotov cocktails at police. 

Right-wing parties are now competing on which would take a harder line on the restive region, hoping to attract more votes on Sunday. 

"There's a permanent coup d'etat in Catalonia," said the leader of the far-right Vox party, Santiago Abascal, saying PP and the Socialists, which have dominated Spanish politics for decades, were both to blame.

Vox won its first parliamentary seats in April and opinion polls show that, boosted by anger over Catalonia protests, it can now hope to win more than 40 seats, up from 24 in the previous ballot. There are 350 seats up for grabs.

(With input from Reuters)