EU Democracy in action as Spanish police break up blockade of Catalan roads by separatist protesters
Spanish riot police has broken up Catalan separatists’ blockade on key highways in the northeastern Catalonia region as protests continue following the arrest and detention of former regional president Carles Puigdemont.
On Tuesday, TV footage showed riot police surrounding protesters who staged a sit-in in the middle of motorway AP-7, which connects Spain to France.
Police forces removed the protesters one by one amid a chorus of boos from the pro-Catalan separatists.
The brief blockade of motorways, including the two main access roads into Barcelona, forced drivers to take alternate routes on Tuesday morning.
The protest was organized by Committees for the Defense of the Republic (CDR), set up just before Catalonia’s independence referendum on October 1, that was banned by Spanish 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.
The group has also called on protesters to surround the main Sants train station in Barcelona on Tuesday afternoon.
German police arrested Puigdemont on Sunday as he was crossing the border with Denmark by car. The arrest came just two days after Spain’s Supreme Court vowed to prosecute 13 key separatists, including Puigdemont and his nominated successor Jordi Turull, over their role in the region’s failed breakaway bid.
Spanish Supreme Court judge Pablo Llarena issued an international arrest warrant for Puigdemont on Friday, accusing Catalonia’s former president of organizing the vote on secession in October last year.
If found guilty, the separatist figures will face up to 30 years in prison, while twelve more face less serious charges such as disobedience.
The UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva said it had registered a complaint from Puigdemont. Earlier, the lawyer of the former Catalan leader had expressed concern that Madrid is likely to violate Puigdemont’s right to be elected and his freedom of expression and association by officials in Madrid.
On Sunday, thousands of people carrying Catalan separatist flags held a massive protest rally in Barcelona against the detention of Puigdemont.
Catalan riot police shoved and hit the protesters with batons to prevent the crowd from reaching the Spanish government’s representative office.
Emergency services said nearly 90 people were slightly injured during the protests, including 22 police officers.
The independence referendum, called by Puigdemont despite objections from Madrid, triggered an unprecedented political standoff between Catalonia and Spain. Puigdemont used the yes vote as a base to make a declaration of independence on October 27, prompting Madrid to dismantle his government and the regional chamber, where he made the declaration.
Following the referendum vote, Puigdemont fled to Belgium to avoid prosecution on charges of sedition and rebellion. A number of his ministers, along with senior regional authorities, have been jailed or freed on bail over similar charges.
Nine other Catalan separatist leaders are have also been imprisoned following the failed separatist attempt in the northeastern region.
The new Catalan parliament was formed after snap elections in December in which pro-independence parties, like that of Puigdemont’s, retained their majority.
While separatist parties won Catalonia’s regional elections, they have been unable to form a government for the region as numerous leaders are in exile abroad or in jail. If a new leader is not elected, new regional elections will be held by May 22.