Protest in Madrid after street vendor's death sparks clashes

Laurence BOUTREUX
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More than a thousand protesters gathered in memory of a Senegalese street vendor in Madrid on Friday

More than a thousand protesters took to the streets in central Madrid on Friday as tensions remained high a day after violent clashes over the controversial death of a Senegalese street vendor.

The protesters gathered in a square in the Lavapies district of the Spanish capital in the early evening, many of them young, dressed in black and wearing bandanas.

Some shouted "kill police", an AFP journalist heard. Marches were also held in Barcelona and Bilbao.

The call for demonstrations after the death of Mame Mbaye Ndiaye, a 35-year-old man from Senegal who suffered cardiac arrest after being reportedly chased by police on Thursday.

Mbaye was one of the many street vendors in Madrid who lay out items like perfume or hats on white sheets, which they can quickly pick up and take away when the police arrives.

While illegal, the trade is often the only way to make a living for migrants struggling to find other employment.

According to city councillor Jose Javier Barbero Gutierrez, Mbaye had been selling his wares on the central Puerta del Sol square, which attracts scores of tourists daily, when police intervened.

Fellow vendors said police chased him through the streets, forcing him to run with his heavy merchandise wrapped in a sheet.

He died of cardiac arrest in a street close to his home in Lavapies some 15 to 20 minutes later, Barbero said. He added that Mbaye did not appear to have been tracked by police for at least the last part of the way home.

When Mbaye suffered the cardiac arrest, he was with a friend who called the police. Several officers arrived and tried unsuccessfully to resuscitate him.

- Call for calm -

Protesters then took to the streets on Thursday evening, setting fire to dustbins and motorbikes, and throwing stones at riot police.

Authorities arrested six people during the clashes, in which at least 10 police officers were injured.

The unrest continued on Friday morning, with several dozen migrants clashing with police and throwing chairs at security forces.

"We understand the spontaneous expression of pain that took place in our streets yesterday (Thursday)," Madrid Deputy Mayor Marta Higueras told reporters.

But "we want to call for calm," she said, adding that Mayor Manuela Carmena had cut short a trip in Paris to return to the city.

Also on Friday, Senegal's Foreign Minister Sidiki Kaba said he had sent a "note of protest" to Spain and requested an independent inquiry into the death.

- 'Chronic stress' -

The city hall announced a full investigation, asking for CCTV footage to try and determine exactly what happened, as the plight of street vendors in Spain suddenly lept to the fore.

Barbero said that Mbaye had been living in Spain for 12 to 15 years without proper ID, "without the possibility of finding a proper job," adding living in these conditions caused "unhealthy chronic stress".

He called for reflection on "the way they experience daily situations of fighting for survival, when you constantly escape from the police, with the constant fear of being arrested."

According to Modou, a 25-year-old vendor from Senegal who refused to give his surname and knew the victim, Mbaye regularly sent money back to his family.

He was one of thousands of migrants who have reached Spain over the years in search of a better life.

Spain is the third busiest gateway for migrants coming to Europe, with more than 28,000 arrivals in 2017 by sea and by land, according to the International Organization for Migration. Hundreds have died along the way.

Anti-racism association SOS Racisme denounced that Mbaye was not able to get a residency permit after more than a decade in Spain.

Human rights groups regularly criticise the way migrants are dealt with in Spain, with detention centres often full, and limited access to asylum demands at the border.

Spain has a population of 46.5 million, among whom 10 percent are foreign, with some 64,000 from Senegal.