Thousands protest in Catalonia as separatist leaders detained

Riot police armed with batons clash with protesters in Barcelona last Friday. Judicial action has hit the Catalan independence movement in recent weeks, causing the separatists to struggle to reorganise or even remain in politics.
Riot police armed with batons clash with protesters in Barcelona last Friday. Judicial action has hit the Catalan independence movement in recent weeks, causing the separatists to struggle to reorganise or even remain in politics.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG
Catalan presidential candidate Jordi Turull leaving the Supreme Court in Madrid with his wife last Friday. He was among those held in custody.
Catalan presidential candidate Jordi Turull leaving the Supreme Court in Madrid with his wife last Friday. He was among those held in custody.PHOTO: REUTERS

Five held, arrest warrants issued for six others who fled abroad

BARCELONA • Thousands of protesters descended on the streets of Catalonia after Spain's Supreme Court detained five separatist leaders for their role in last year's independence bid.

The court also issued international arrest warrants for six other Catalan figures who have fled abroad, including former regional president Carles Puigdemont.

Twenty four protesters were lightly injured in clashes with police on Friday, emergency services said. Riot police used batons to keep the demonstrators away from the federal government offices in Barcelona.

The protest had been called on Thursday by the radical Committees for the Defence of the Republic, before the court decisions were announced.

Spain's Supreme Court said on Friday that it would prosecute 13 key Catalan separatists for "rebellion", a crime which carries a maximum penalty of 30 years in jail.

Five people were held in custody, including Catalan presidential candidate Jordi Turull, who was due yesterday to seek a second round vote in the regional Parliament, after failing to be elected earlier in the week.

A Supreme Court judge also held former Catalan Parliament president Carme Forcadell and three former regional ministers.

Judge Pablo Llarena decided that the five posed a flight risk, after Ms Marta Rovira, the deputy leader of the left-wing separatist ERC party, became the latest leading pro-independence figure to flee abroad to escape charges.

Ms Rovira had ignored the summons and announced she was taking "the road to exile". She is currently in Switzerland, according to Spanish media.

Judge Llarena also issued international arrest warrants for Mr Puigdemont, who is in self-imposed exile in Belgium along with four of his former ministers.

All five left Spain following a proclamation of independence for Catalonia in October. One of them, Ms Clara Ponsati, has since moved to Scotland.

Four other separatists have already been detained by the Spanish authorities. In total, 25 people, the core of the movement, have been indicted over last year's independence drive.

The court decisions further inflamed the protesters in Barcelona, some of whom burnt pictures of King Felipe VI, a crime in Spain, as well as photos of Judge Llarena.

They waved separatist flags and chanted: "Freedom for the political prisoners."

Another, calmer, rally filled the huge Catalonia Square in central Barcelona.

"Catalonia has never felt like part of Spain," said 22-year old Alba Mateu, one of the demonstrators.

His 58-year-old mother Carme Sala added: "There are two million people who want to leave Spain; they can't put us all in prison."

Catalan television aired footage of more crowds in towns in the region, including Vic and Tarragona.

The judicial action in recent weeks has hit the Catalan independence movement, with some of its main players giving up their public roles while others have toned down their rhetoric.

With numerous leaders abroad or in jail, the separatists have struggled to reorganise or even remain in politics.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 25, 2018, with the headline 'Thousands protest in Catalonia as separatist leaders detained'. Print Edition | Subscribe