Police and demonstrators in Barcelona have clashed for a fifth night with thousands hitting the streets across Spain in protest against the jailing of a controversial rapper.

Police officers run past barricades during clashes with demonstrators following a protest condemning the arrest of rap singer Pablo Hasel in Barcelona, Spain on February 20, 2021.
Police officers run past barricades during clashes with demonstrators following a protest condemning the arrest of rap singer Pablo Hasel in Barcelona, Spain on February 20, 2021. (AP)

Protesters have thrown bottles at police, set fire to containers and smashed up shops in Barcelona in a fifth night of clashes after a rapper was jailed for glorifying terrorism and insulting royalty in his songs.

Demonstrators on Saturday hurled projectiles and flares at police, who fired foam bullets to disperse the crowd, the Mossos d'Esquadra, the Catalan regional police, said on Twitter.

The nine-month sentence of Pablo Hasel, known for his virulently anti-establishment raps, has sparked a debate over freedom of expression in Spain as well as protests that have at times turned violent.

About 6,000 demonstrators gathered in the city, local police said.

READ MORE: Arrests in Spain after second night of Pablo Hasel protests

Country-wide demonstrations

Angry demonstrations first erupted on Tuesday after police detained Hasel, 32, and took him to jail in a highly contentious free speech case.

Since then, protesters have turned out every night, clashing with police in disturbances which began in Hasel's home region of Catalonia, but have since spread to Madrid and beyond.

Protesters on Saturday attacked shops on Barcelona's most prestigious shopping street, Passeig de Gracia, while newspaper El Pais reported others had smashed windows in the emblematic Palau de la Musica concert hall.

They also attacked the Barcelona stock exchange building and torched several motorbikes.

Nine people were arrested in Catalonia, the regional police said, including three minors.

Some were detained for looting shops in Barcelona, local police said.

READ MORE: Protests after police jail Spanish rapper over tweets

In Madrid, around 400 people gathered under a heavy police presence in the city centre, chanting and clapping as curious shoppers stopped to watch.

"Free Pablo Hasel!" they yelled as a helicopter flew overhead and at least 17 police vans could be seen lined up along Gran Via, Madrid's busiest shopping street.

In the northern cities of Pamplona and Lleida, police charged protesters.

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Violence erupts

Earlier, Socialist Party President Cristina Narbona condemned the violence that has marked protests over the past four nights.

"We reiterate our strongest condemnation of violence which cannot be justified as a defence of the freedom of expression," she said.

Officials said four people were injured in Barcelona on Friday after demonstrators pelted police with projectiles, attacked two banks and burned containers. 

Protesters caused $156,000 (128,000 euros) in damages, the city council said.

More than 60 people have been arrested across Catalonia, police said. 

Police also said nine people were injured, two of whom were taken to hospital. One woman lost an eye during clashes in Barcelona, triggering calls from politicians to investigate police tactics. 

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Freedom of speech

The clashes have also sparked a political row that has exacerbated a divide within Spain's leftwing coalition, which groups the Socialists of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and the hard-left Podemos.

While the Socialists have firmly opposed the violence, Podemos' leadership has backed the protesters.

The party emerged from the anti-austerity "Indignados" protest movement that occupied squares across Spain in 2011. Their position is that the Hasel case exposes Spain's "democratic shortcomings."

Oscar-winning actor Javier Bardem was among artists, celebrities and politicians who called for a change in the law covering freedom of expression.

Known for his hard-left views, Hasel was handed a nine-month sentence over tweets glorifying terrorism and videos inciting violence.

The court ruling said freedom of expression could not be used "as a 'blank cheque' to praise the perpetrators of terrorism".

He was also fined about $36,000 (30,000 euros) for insults, libel and slander for tweets likening former king Juan Carlos I to a mafia boss and accusing police of torturing and killing demonstrators and migrants.

The Spanish government announced last week it would scrap prison sentences for offences involving cases of freedom of speech.

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies