Spain warns Catalan protesters after jailing 9 separatist leaders

Protesters on Monday blocked flights and trains in the Spanish autonomous region of Catalonia after the Supreme Court sentenced nine separatist leaders up to 13 years in jail for a failed 2017 independence attempt, reports say.

Thousands of travellers were affected on Monday as more than a hundred flights were cancelled after protesters blocked roads to Barcelona’s El Prat airport, above. Many of them had to trudge the highway with their luggage as public transport was suspended for hours.

Protesters hurled stones, mineral water bottles and rubbish bins at the police leading to clashes that left dozens injured.

Train services were suspended as activists used social media to mobilise protesters to block railway lines.

Waving pro-independence flags and demanding the release of the nine leaders, many protesters gathered at Placa San Jaume, the seat of the Catalan government in Barcelona.

Democratic Tsunami, a pro-active civil disobedience group, used hundreds of cars to block roads leading to Barajas airport in Madrid.

Inside the airport terminal, police baton-charged protesters and fired tear gas to disperse them.

In Girona, protesters blocked the high-speed train line from France but services were restored by Tuesday.

The nine Catalan leaders were jailed on Monday for sedition and misuse of public funds for their roles in the independence referendum in 2017.

Among them were the region’s former vice president, Oriol Junqueras (sentenced to 13 years), and former interior minister Joaquim Forn (sentenced to 10-and-a-half years).

Apart from nine leaders jailed, three others faced lighter charge and were spared jail time.

Spanish authorities on Monday made fresh efforts to get Catalonia’s former president Carles Puigdemont extradited from Belgium.

Puigdemont fled to Brussels to evade arrest soon after the 2017 referendum on Catalonia’s independence.

Responding to the Supreme Court ruling, he tweeted it was a show of repression and revenge.

Quim Torra, the incumbent president of Catalonia, called the ruling unlawful and undemocratic.

In the meantime, caretaker prime minister of Spain Pedro Sanchez said the campaign for Catalonia’s independence has failed to gain internal backing and international recognition.

Spain wants Catalonia to emerge as a modern state that believes in pluralism, tolerance and peaceful co-existence. The region needs integration, not independence, and it is time to open a new chapter there based on dialogue, Sanchez said.

Span believes in democracy and the rule of law. No one is above law. The government is committed to maintaining public order and it will respond strongly against forces that try to upset it, he warned pro-independence protesters.

The Catalan separatist movement has fractured the society and the government is trying to repair it, he said.