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Dublin: 4 °C Monday 17 February, 2020

Thousands demand the release of Catalan independence leaders at Barcelona protest

Eight members of his former cabinet were detained last week on charges of sedition, rebellion and misuse of public funds.

A pro-Catalan protest in Barcelona.
A pro-Catalan protest in Barcelona.
Image: AP/PA Images

TENS OF THOUSANDS of Catalans gathered to demand the release of regional officials who were jailed for their push for independence from Spain, which has left the country mired in a political crisis.

The march kicked off in Barcelona, the Catalan capital, at 4pm and came a day after the region’s parliament speaker — one of dozens of lawmakers sacked by Madrid last month — was released from jail after posting €150,000 bail.

Thousands gathered on an avenue next to the region’s parliament building waving Catalan independence flags and chanting “Freedom!” while some held up banners announcing: “SOS Democracy”.

Children in riding helmets climbed castells — the region’s traditional human towers — as others held placards bearing caricatures of some jailed lawmakers.

The Catalonia crisis has caused concern in the European Union as the bloc deals with Brexit and uncertainty over the fate of the region of 7.5 million people. More than 2,400 businesses have moved their legal headquarters elsewhere.

On Wednesday a general strike called by a pro-independence union caused travel chaos, blocking 60 roads and train lines including Spain’s main highway link to France and the rest of Europe.

Since lawmakers in Catalonia — a wealthy region with its own language and distinct culture — declared independence on October 27 following a banned referendum, pro-separatist officials have come under huge pressure from Madrid.

Spain: Catalonian Independence Assembly Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

The central government has dismissed Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont, his government and the parliament, suspended the region’s autonomy and called for new elections there on 21 December.

Barcelona’s popular mayor, just hours before she was due to attend the rally, railed against the actions of Puigdemont’s government.

“They’ve provoked tensions and carried out a unilateral independence declaration which the majority do not want,” Ada Colau told a meeting of her party members.

“They’ve tricked the population for their own interests.”

Eight members of the axed Catalan cabinet are currently detained on charges of sedition, rebellion and misuse of public funds.

A further six fired officials including parliament speaker Carme Forcadell were granted bail this week on similar charges by Spain’s Supreme Court.

Puigdemont is in self-imposed exile in Belgium awaiting a hearing on possible extradition back to Spain after Madrid issued a EU-wide warrant.

 - © AFP 2017

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