BARCELONA      -     Catalonia’s pro-independence regional chief Quim Torra called for talks with Spain’s central government on Saturday to try to end a wave of violence sparked by the jailing of separatist leaders. Barcelona experienced its worst night of disturbances in decades on Friday as masked youths blocked roads with blazing garbage bins and hurled rocks at security forces, who responded by firing repeated rounds of smoke grenades and tear gas. Catalonia is a semi-autonomous region with some 7.5 million inhabitants who have their own language, parliament and flag. It is Spain’s wealthiest region and Barcelona is the country’s second largest city, drawing millions of tourists each year. Radical youth group Arran called for a fresh demonstration at 6 p.m. (1600 GMT) against “police violence” and to call for the “freedom of all political prisoners”. Police said they feared renewed confrontations and advised shopkeepers in the city centre to close during the protest.

Torra told reporters this week’s violence did not reflect the peaceful nature of the traditional Catalan independence movement. “We urge the acting prime minister of the Spanish government to sit at a negotiatingtable to talk,” he said. “Violence has never been and will never be our way.” Some 300 people have been arrested in clashes that have flared throughout the region since Monday, when Spain’s Supreme Court handed down lengthy prison terms to nine Catalan leaders who staged a banned referendum