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Catalan separatists block roads in protest at Carles Puigdemont detention

Television images showed riot police surrounding protesters who had sat down in the middle of motorway AP-7, which links Spain to neighbouring France. 

Published: 28th March 2018 01:20 AM  |   Last Updated: 28th March 2018 01:20 AM   |  A+A-

Catalan Mossos d'Esquadra regional police officers clash with pro-independence supporters trying to reach the Spanish government office in Barcelona. | AP File

By AFP

BARCELONA: Spanish riot police broke up a blockade by Catalan separatists on major motorways in Catalonia Tuesday, part of a wave of protests over the arrest and detention of ex-regional president Carles Puigdemont.

Television images showed riot police surrounding protesters who had sat down in the middle of motorway AP-7, which links Spain to neighbouring France. 

Police removed the protesters one by one facing a chorus of boos from the pro-Catalan independence activists.

But on Tuesday evening two other roads were blocked around the northeast Spanish region, according to Catalonia’s traffic authority, while hundreds of people protested near Barcelona's main Sants trains station.

They had planned to surround the station but access to it was blocked by riot police.

"After the arrest of Puigdemont, we could not stay home," said Daniel Larrotcha, a 34-year-old computer programmer.

The demonstrations were called by the radical Committees for the Defence of the Republic (CDR), set up just before Catalonia held an independence referendum on October 1 that was banned by the courts.

"With the latest incarcerations and the arrest of president Carles Puigdemont, it clearly seems that we have crossed the point of no return," the CDR announced in a statement on Monday following mass demonstrations the day before.

- 'Continue fighting' -

After Puigdemont's arrest in Germany on Sunday, a court there ordered that he remain in custody pending possible extradition to Spain to face "rebellion" charges.

Puigdemont wants to "pass the message" to the Catalan people that "he will continue fighting", attorney Gonzalo Boye said after visiting him in jail.

His arrest comes five months after he went on the run as Spanish prosecutors sought to charge him with rebellion in the wake of Catalonia's failed independence bid in October last year.

Aside from Puigdemont, 24 other Catalan separatist leaders face various charges for their role in the wealthy northeastern region's failed breakaway attempt. Nine of them are in prison in Spain.

According to his lawyer Jaume Alonso-Cuevillas, Puigdemont was on his way back to Belgium, where he had been living in self-imposed exile.

A ruling on extradition must normally be made within 60 days under German law. A spokeswoman for the German prosecutor's office told AFP it would "probably not come this week" ahead of the four-day Easter holiday.

- Protests in Barcelona -

The ousted Catalonia president's detention marks the latest chapter in a secession saga that has bitterly divided Catalans and triggered Spain's worst political crisis in decades.

Tuesday's road blockades followed protests in Barcelona on Sunday, when Catalan riot police shoved and hit demonstrators with batons to keep the crowd from advancing on the Spanish government's representative office.

Nearly a hundred people were slightly injured during the protests, including 22 police officers, emergency services said.

The case lands a diplomatic hot potato in German Chancellor Angela Merkel's lap less than two weeks after her new government was sworn in. 

Her spokesman insisted Monday that the decision on Puigdemont's extradition rested solely in the hands of the German regional justice authorities.

On Friday, Spain's supreme court issued international arrest warrants for 13 Catalan separatists including Puigdemont and his nominated successor Jordi Turull.

The court said they would be prosecuted for "rebellion", a charge which carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison.

Twelve more face less serious charges such as disobedience.

- Fresh elections? -

Issuing the warrant for Puigdemont on Friday, Judge Pablo Llarena accused the former Catalan leader of organising the referendum in October last year despite a ban from Madrid and the risk of violence.

That vote had been swiftly followed by the Catalan parliament's declaration of independence on October 27.

Meanwhile the lawyer for a former Catalan minister wanted by Spain for her role in last year's independence bid, Clara Ponsati, said she will surrender to police on Wednesday in Scotland where she had fled.

While separatist parties won Catalonia's regional elections, which were called by Madrid in December, they have been unable to elect a president and form a government as their chosen candidates are now either in exile, in jail or facing prosecution.

Fresh regional elections will be triggered if a new leader is not elected by May 22.



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