March 18, 2006

Spanish drinking binge ends in riots, 80 injured

By Raquel Castillo

MADRID (Reuters) - Mass street drinking sessions fueled
clashes between Spanish youths and riot police early on
Saturday, leaving 80 people injured and 70 arrested in
Barcelona and Salamanca, police said.

Tens of thousands of young people gathered in cities around
Spain on Friday night in an attempt to hold the biggest street
drinking session or "botellon" ("big bottle"). In the southern
city of Granada, police said 25,000 people joined the botellon.

The most serious violence was in Barcelona, Spain's second
city, where 68 people, including 37 police, were injured and 54
rioters arrested.

Barcelona police used baton charges and fired rubber
bullets to try to control the youth, who had been throwing
bottles and cans, 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.

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

Police blamed the disturbances on about 200 people who,
police said, were out to cause trouble.

Another 12 people were injured and 16 arrested, including
an Italian and a German, in clashes in the historic university
city of Salamanca, 180 kms (110 miles) northwest of Madrid,
officials said.


A government official in Salamanca, Jesus Malaga, said
about 2,000 young people gathered early on Saturday and about
100 of them set fire to rubbish containers and litter bins.

A fireman and five police officers were among the injured
when people in the crowd started throwing objects, he said.

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 revellers 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.

Some cities, such as 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..."