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Chaos at Barcelona airport as thousands protest over sentencing of Catalan leaders

Demonstrators flooded the streets of Barcelona before marching towards El Prat airport in Barcelona.

spain-catalonia Riot policemen clash with protestors outside El Prat airport in Barcelona, Spain Source: Emilio Morenatti via PA Images

THOUSANDS OF ANGRY protesters have turned out on the streets of Barcelona after Spain’s Supreme Court sentenced nine Catalan separatist leaders to heavy jail terms over the failed 2017 independence bid.

As the news broke, demonstrators flooded the streets of Barcelona before marching towards El Prat, Spain’s second busiest airport, where they briefly choked-off road and rail access, an AFP correspondent said. 

At the entrance to the airport, police charged at protesters trying to get inside, while the AENA airport authority said some 20 flights had been cancelled. 

Outside, traffic was at a complete standstill up to five kilometres from the airport, with many travellers with suitcases getting out and walking as a police helicopter flew overhead. 

Since the early hours, police have been braced for what activists pledged would be a mass response of civil disobedience.

“I feel very affected by the sentence even though I expected it. I feel fury and a sense of powerlessness,” said Joan Guich, a 19-year-old maths student who was protesting on Gran Via. 

“They have been convicted for an ideology which I agree with.”

spain-catalonia Protesters blocking El Prat airport Source: Bernat Armangue via PA Images

spain-catalonia Protesters and police officers during a demonstration at El Prat airport Source: AP/PA Images

‘An outrage’

The 12 defendants were put on trial in February for their role in the banned 1 October 2017 referendum and the short-lived independence declaration that followed it. 

The harshest sentence of 13 years was handed to former Catalan vice president Oriol Junqueras who served as the main defendant in absence of Carles Puigdemont, the region’s leader who fled Spain to avoid prosecution.

In a tweet from Brussels, Puigdemont denounced the sentences as an “outrage”.

“100 years in all. An outrage. Now more than ever, by your side and those of your families. It is time to react as never before,” he wrote. 

And in a letter released today, Junqueras said the story was far from over. 

“Nothing ends today, you neither win nor convince,” he wrote in remarks directed at Spain’s central government. 

“We will come back even stronger… and win.”

spain-catalonia Protestors crowd a street in Barcelona, Spain Source: Emilio Morenatti via PA Images

Spain’s government has expressed hope the trial’s end would allow it to move on from the crisis in the wealthy northeastern region, where support for independence has gained momentum over the past decade. 

“Following the Supreme Court decision we need to turn the page… through dialogue,” Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said, speaking in English.  

But shortly afterwards, a judge issued a new international arrest warrant for Puigdemont, a clear indication Spain would not rest until he and five others who fled abroad had been tried for their role in the crisis. 

‘These are good people’

The separatist movement is hoping the guilty verdicts will unite their divided ranks and bring supporters onto the streets.

“It is time to rise up against the authoritarian fascism of the Spanish state and its accomplices,” tweeted the radical CDR as thousands heeded the call to protest.

Many said they’d taken the day off to protest a sentence they knew would be harsh. 

“I’m not surprised but I still feel really outraged. These are good, peaceful, honest people,” said Carles Navarro, a 49-year-old IT consultant. 

“We have always looked for a peaceful way (to express our demands) but nobody listens. Now we’re forced to resort to civil disobedience.”

independence-protest-against-court-sentences-in-barcelona-spain-14-oct-2019 An independence flag seen in the middle of hundreds of protesters during the demonstration Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

Huge crowds also blocked Gran Via and halted rail traffic this evening while hundreds of people stormed the rail tracks, halting four suburban lines. 

The Catalan National Assembly (ANC) and Omnium Cultural, the region’s two biggest grassroots pro-independence groups behind some of the biggest separatist protests in recent years, have also called an evening rally. 

Barcelona Football Club also weighed in, tweeting: “Prison is not the solution. The resolution of the conflict in Catalonia must come exclusively from political dialogue.”

Junqueras’ leftwing ERC party, which advocates dialogue with Spain, has said no negotiations would be possible without an “amnesty” for “political prisoners and those in exile”.

In the coming days, demonstrators will march from five towns towards Barcelona where they will congregate on Friday, when a general strike has been called.

© – AFP 2019

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