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Crowds descend on Barcelona for pro-independence march

October 18, 2019

Huge crowds are converging on Barcelona as part of a mass demonstration in support of Catalan independence. Unions also called a strike in the region to protest against the jailing of nine separatist leaders.

Pro-independence protesters wave flags and banners
Image: picture alliance/ZUMAPRESS.com/M. Oesterle

A general strike began in the northeastern Spanish region of Catalonia on Friday — the fifth day of protests over the sentencing of nine separatists by Spain's Supreme Court.

Protesters blocked major roads as they trekked towards Barcelona for a mass rally with striking workers and students later in the afternoon. Dozens of flights were canceled at the city's El Prat airport, while there were reports of minor disruptions to the rail and tram networks.

The protests also prompted the Spanish soccer federation to postpone an October 26 La Liga match between Real Madrid and Barcelona over security concerns. Volkswagen subsidiary Seat said it had halted production at its plant near Barcelona until Saturday.

Read moreProtests in Barcelona after Catalan leaders' jail sentences

A protester stands in front of the Sagrada Familia
The Sagrada Familia was closed to tourists after hundreds of protesters blocked access to the iconic cathedralImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/B. Armangue

Rioting in Barcelona

Tensions in Catalonia began to spiral on Monday, after the supreme court in Madrid jailed nine separatist leaders for terms of up to 13 years for their role in 2017 Catalonian independence bid.

The sentencing triggered violent protests, with pro-independence supporters taking to the streets and, in some cases, clashing with police and anti-independence activists. Officers said 11 people had been arrested in connection with the unrest. 

Authorities in Barcelona said the city had suffered more than €1.5 million ($1.67 million) in damage due to the rioting.

A protester holds up a plank of wood next to a fire in the street
More than 200 people have been injured in unrest in Catalonia over the past four days Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/E. Morenatti

Hundreds of thousands of protesters were expected to march from inland towns to join the pro-independence demonstration in central Barcelona on Friday. Reports from the early afternoon described hundreds of people blocking the entrance to the city's famous Sagrada Familia basilica.

Spain's caretaker interior minister, Fernando Grande-Marlaska, said authorities were keeping tabs on "minority groups that are provoking incidents in very specific places."

Read more: Spain condemns 'generalized violence' in Catalonia

Meanwhile, Catalonia's fomer leader, Carles Puigdemont, who fled to Belgium after the independence vote in 2017, said he had handed himself in to Belgian authorities. On Monday, Spain issued a new warrant for his arrest on possible charges of sedition and misuse of public funds. Puigdemont told reporters on Friday that Belgian authorities had allowed him to remain free without bail. 

Catalans on trial in Spain

nm/rt (AP, Reuters, EFE, dpa)

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