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Memorials grow along site of deadly attack in Barcelona


    Candles and bunches of flowers placed by people rest on the ground in Las Ramblas, Barcelona, Spain, Friday, Aug. 18, 2017. Police on Friday shot and killed five people carrying bomb belts who were connected to the Barcelona van attack, as the manhunt intensified for the perpetrators of Europe’s latest rampage claimed by the Islamic State group.

BARCELONA, Spain >> An ever-expanding jumble of flags, candles, teddy bears and flowers grew today at the base of Barcelona’s ornate Canaletes Fountain, where a local legend says that those who drink from the monument will fall in love with the city and always return.

The makeshift memorial sprang up with others along the historic Las Ramblas promenade, the site of a van attack that killed 13 people, injured 120 others and brought Islamic extremism to the heart of Catalonia.

Jesus Borrull, a lifelong resident, gently pushed through the crowd to kneel and pray in front of the Canaletes monument, which for two centuries has been a symbol of the city and a meeting spot for FC Barcelona soccer fans after a victory.

“The only thing we can do is go forward with peace and goodness,” he said. “Even though it’s difficult, we have to do it.”

The promenade reopened to pedestrians early Friday and vehicle traffic later in the day as life along the usually bustling street began to return to normal, albeit under the watch of dozens of armed police in blue and neon-yellow uniforms.

Newsstands were again selling papers and souvenirs, and ice cream shops lifted their security gates. But the street’s flower stalls stayed closed, and metal gates covered the entrance to La Boqueria, the expansive market that is one of the city’s big tourist attractions.

Tensions flared briefly Friday evening when riot police held back a group of about 20-30 far-right protesters from reaching hundreds of counterprotesters at the start of the promenade. The far-right group held up a sign saying “Stop Islamization of Europe,” while the counterprotesters held up their middle fingers and shouted “Barcelona, anti-fascist.”

But the atmosphere was otherwise calm and unusually quiet as residents and tourists took stock of the carnage a day earlier and marveled at their own survival.

Taxi driver Mariano Romero, 53, said he was in his cab across the street from the start of the promenade when he saw the white van veer onto the pedestrian walkway.

“I heard it hit the people, saw the people flying,” he said. “There was a family nearby so I told them to get in. They were tourists and were trembling with fear. I took them free of charge to their hotel near La Sagrada Familia” church, he said.

Abdel Azar, manager of Aromas de Istanbul restaurant near the top of Las Ramblas, said he was standing out front when he saw the van jump the curb and start smashing into people.

“It came up over there at the entrance and sped up to a tremendous speed, tremendous,” he said. “I kept hearing ‘boom!’ when it was hitting people.”

Pointing to the curb about 20 feet away, he said: “I saw an injured girl right there. Seeing it is shocking. I don’t want to overstate my role, but seeing the terror on people’s faces was just horrible.”

The city and its officials observed a minute of silence at noon, a rare moment when the question of Catalonian independence — the subject of a proposed Oct. 1 referendum — didn’t divide its people.

At other makeshift memorials along the promenade, bystanders held signs declaring they are not afraid. A guitar player strummed out “Imagine” by John Lennon while several people sang along.

“We don’t have to be afraid,” said Enrique Camprubi, a resident for 40 years who walks down Las Ramblas nearly every day. “And we aren’t afraid because that’s what they want, the Islamic State, they want to scare us so that we stay at home. That is last thing we’re going to do.”

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