On Catalan independence vote anniversary, protesters block railway, roads | News | DW | 01.10.2018
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On Catalan independence vote anniversary, protesters block railway, roads

Activists across the region occupied railway tracks, central streets and key motorways in protest against Madrid. One year on, Catalonia shows no sign of forgetting its quashed bid for independence.

Separatists in Spain's Catalonia region took to the streets on Monday, to conmemorate the one-year anniversary of their contested independence referendum. Demonstrators marched peacefully, but also blocked major transportation arteries and clashed with police. 

Protesters occupied central streets in Barcelona and Lleida, preventing cars from moving on the AP-7 highway that leads to France and the A2, which links the Catalonian capital to Madrid. Later, officials said that service on those roads had been restored.

The demonstrations were called by a grassroots organization called the Committees for the Defense of the Republic (CDRs), which is demanding a full break with the Spanish state.

"A year ago we voted for independence... Let's act," the CDRs wrote on Twitter. In the northeastern city of Girona, several hundred CDR members also occupied high-speed railway tracks, briefly blocking service between Figueres and Barcelona.

Activists also removed the Spanish flag from the state government headquarters in Barcelona and replaced it with separatist flags.

Catalan President Quim Torra cheered the protesters on, saying that they were "doing a good thing" by applying pressure on the streets. But the embrace of radical groups drew condemnation by rival parties Ciudadanos and center-right PP. 

"Catalonia is presided over by a independence movement leader and a spanish government that tolerates him," said Ciudadanos' leader in Catalonia, Ines Arrimadas. 

Conservative PP leader Pablo Casado blamed Catalonia's leadership with "inciting violence" and promoting civil strife.

Protesters confront police

Clashes erupted between separatists and the regional police forces at the conclusion of the march. Protesters, some with their faces covered, threw stones at officers, while others knocked down barriers at the entrance of the regional parliament in Barcelona.

Earlier on Saturday, 24 people were injured in clashes between protesters and counterprotesters, at a pro-separatist police rally to honor colleagues who had been deployed to crush the independence movement last year.

Protesters bring down police barricades in Barcelona (picture-alliance/AP Photo/M. Fernandez)

Protesters bring down police barricades in Barcelona

On October 1, 2017, Catalonia voted in favor of seceding from Spain and becoming an independent country, despite a ruling from Spain's top court establishing the vote as unconstitutional. Regional President Carles Puigdemont subsequently fled to Belgium as his government was sacked and several of his allies jailed.

After a brief detention in Germany, Spain dropped the European arrest warrant against Puigdemont and the former leader returned to Brussels.

Madrid has consistently argued that the vote was held illegally and is therefore void.

Separatist parties currently hold an absolute majority in Catalonia's regional parliament, but they are split on whether or not to continue to pursue the cause of independence and if so, whether to take a hardline or moderate approach.

es,jcg/ng (AP, AFP)

Watch video 01:27

Catalonians mark anniversary of referendum with protests

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