March 18, 2006

Eighty hurt as Spanish drinking binge ends in riots

MADRID (Reuters) - A mass street drinking session by
Spanish youths turned into a riot in Barcelona early on
Saturday and 68 people were injured and 54 arrested in clashes
between youths and riot police, police said.

Another 12 people were hurt and 16 arrested in clashes
between police and street drinkers in the historic city of
Salamanca, 180 kms (110 miles) northwest of Madrid, state radio

Tens of thousands of young people congregated in cities
around Spain on Friday night in an attempt to hold the
country's biggest street drinking session or "botellon" ("big

In Barcelona, the event degenerated into pitched battles
between police and drinkers in the narrow old streets of the
city center that lasted most of the night.

The riot began after midnight when youths began throwing
bottles and cans at police who responded with baton charges and
fired rubber bullets, according to media reports.

Firemen were called out to 50 blazes as the youths set fire
to rubbish containers in the streets. Shop windows were broken
and several shops ransacked, media reports said.

A spokesman for Barcelona municipal police blamed the
disturbances on about 200 people who he said were out to cause
trouble. He said the 68 injured included 37 police officers,
some of whom suffered severe cuts when they were hit by

The "botellon" has become part of city life in Spain in
recent years as teenagers, bored at home and too poor to go to
bars, bought beer, spirits and cartons of wine from food stores
and lounged around in plazas, drinking the night away.

Bombarded with noise, the stench of urine and vomit on the
streets, many city councils brought in rules to ban drinking on
the street.

Police now patrol many botellon hot spots at weekends,
moving along groups of teenagers who mix cocktails with cheap
spirits or "calimocho" -- red wine and cola.

Youths rallied revelers by email and SMS messages for
"macrobotellones" in 20 cities around Spain on Friday, while
authorities pleaded with parents to keep their children under
control and warned of the danger of under-age drinking.

Heavy rain put a damper on the events in several cities on
Friday while in Madrid a tight police cordon around central
squares dissuaded drinkers.

Some city authorities, such as those in Seville, Granada
and Valladolid, allowed the gatherings to take place in
designated areas and up to 25,000 people gathered in the
southern city of Granada.

"We've never seen anything like this in Granada," a police
spokesman said. "There's no doubt that this is the biggest
botellon in Spain..."