Catalan separatist activists blocked traffic on Monday on a motorway linking Spain and France, in a fresh protest against the sentencing last month of nine of their leaders to lengthy jail terms.
Demonstrators cut the AP7 motorway at La Jonquera near the city of Girona in eastern Spain, a day after a repeat general election in which Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s Socialist emerged as winners but weakened, while far-right party Vox surged to third place on the back of its hardline stance against separatism.
Dozens of vehicles blocked the motorway near the border with France while some 300 people set up a barricade, according to an AFP photographer at the scene.
Some demonstrators began to set up a stage and speakers which they brought to the scene in vans.
Catalonia’s regional road department confirmed the motorway was cut in both directions at La Jonquera.
The protest was called by a new, mysterious organisation called “Democratic Tsunami” which last month sent thousands of people to block access to Barcelona airport in a protest which ended in clashes between demonstrators and police.
“This mobilisation is a cry to the international community so that it makes the Spanish state understand that the only possible path is to sit down and talk,” the group said in a message sent to its followers on encrypted messaging service Telegram.
Radical separatist group CDR also called on its supporters to head to La Jonquera to block the highway.
Catalonia was rocked by days of mass, sometimes violent, pro-independence rallies after Spain’s Supreme Court on October 14 sentenced nine politicians and activists to jail for up to 13 years for their role in a failed secession bid in 2017.
Demonstrators have frequently cut road and rail links between Spain and France while many shops in downtown Barcelona have been shut during the rallies and there are growing concerns about the impact of the unrest on business in Spain’s second-largest city.
Sebastien Ogier’s hopes of securing a seventh straight world rally driver’s title were dealt a potentially fatal blow in Catalonia on Friday.
The French rally ace’s Citroen suffered power steering problems resulting in a loss of over 40 seconds on his rivals in the Rally of Catalonia’s second stage.
Ogier trails championship leader Ott Tanak by 28 points in the standings, with the Estonian only needing to outscore him by two points this weekend to dethrone the French rally king.
The Rally of Catalonia staged around Salou south of Barcelona is the 13th and penultimate leg of the season which concludes in Australia next month.
Tanak was taking a cautious approach to clinching his maiden title.
“We’ll focus on ourselves and do all we can. If it takes more than that, then there’s no need to push it. If we don’t do it here, we can take the fight to Australia,” the Toyota Yaris driver said this week.
The only other driver in with an outside shot at the title is Thierry Neuville, the third-placed Belgian who is 41 points adrift in the standings.
The tenors fell silent at Barcelona’s opera house on Friday where a performance of Turandot was cancelled as a general strike and mass protests brought Catalonia to a halt after Spain’s top court jailed nine separatist leaders.
On the fifth day of a massive mobilisation against Monday’s Supreme Court judgement, the operatic shutdown was a symbol for how the protests are impacting daily life in the region, and it’s economy.
As 14,000 striking students marched to the city centre, traffic was halted on at least seven regional highways and nine other major roads.
Spanish carmaker Seat stopped production at its factory near Barcelona, which employs 6,500 people, and Barcelona’s most visited monument, the Sagrada Familia basilica, closed its doors after protesters massed outside.
And along the Paseo de Gracia, luxury boutiques were shuttered, the nearby patches of blackened tarmac a testimony to four days of running battles between police and protesters.
In this wealthy northeastern region which accounts for around a fifth of Spain’s GDP, the ongoing protests, the violence and Friday’s general strike have generated a flurry of warnings from business organisations.
And with at least six countries issuing travel warnings for visitors heading to Barcelona and the region, which is Spain’s biggest tourist draw, it has set alarm bells ringing about the economic impact of the separatist protests.
The unrest “will have a direct impact on tourism and business,” warned business association Barcelona Oberta, recalling the failed referendum of October 2017 when tourist arrivals fell by 5.0 percent and turnover fell between 5.0 and 10 percent in Spain’s most visited region.
Barcelona city council said Friday the first three days of clashes had cost an estimated 1,575,000 euros ($1,755,000) in damage, with more than 700 large wheelie bins torched and mob violence also damaging traffic lights, street signs, trees and the city’s bike-share service.
Two cruise ships run by German tour operator TUI, each carrying 2,500 people, cancelled a scheduled stopover this weekend, although 18 others were to arrive as planned, the port authorities said.
Accounting for around 20 percent of Spain’s GDP, Catalonia is heavily dependent on exports, with the CETM, which represents the transportation industry, predicting losses of 25 million euros per day due to roadblocks across the region.
Barcelona’s huge wholesale market Mercabarna, which exports around a third of the region’s fresh produce, was also trading at a much-reduced level on Friday, with many wholesalers and customers not showing up, a spokesman said.
And Barcelona’s hotels industry said images of the ongoing violence was likely to have a “serious” impact on its tourist industry.
“Such images are especially damaging for the reputation of the city around the world and could have a serious direct impact on tourist and hotel activity in Barcelona, as well as on its socio-economic status,” it said.
Police in Spain said Wednesday they arrested 30 people overnight across Catalonia for their roles in clashes with police during protests over the jailing of nine separatist leader over a failed 2017 independence bid.
Pro-independence groups staged sit-ins outside Spanish government offices in a number of Catalan cities late Tuesday, with around 40,000 people taking part in Barcelona and 9,000 in the separatist stronghold of Girona, according to municipal and regional police.
The protests ended in clashes with police in many cities.
In Barcelona, police charged hundreds of masked demonstrators who threw projectiles at officers and set garbage containers and cardboard boxes on fire.
Catalonia’s regional police, the Mossos d’Esquadra, said 14 people were arrested in the port of Tarragona, six in Barcelona and ten others in other Catalan cities for disobeying authority and causing a disturbance.
Monday’s ruling unleashed a wave of protests, with Catalan separatists enraged by the Supreme Court’s decision to hand heavy prison sentences of between nine and 13 years to leaders convicted of sedition over the 2017 separatist push.
That culminated in a banned independence referendum and short-lived declaration of independence in October of the same year.
“My commitments with my club did not allow it. I hope next time I can be there with you. In Qatar you will have the first of your fans cheering our team.”
The game was expected to be the 39-year-old Xavi’s last for Catalonia and the organisers had reportedly planned to honour him at half time.
“The over-riding commitments of his team, the Al Sadd Club of Qatar, in the last stages of the league have made it impossible,” the Catalan Football Federation.
While Xavi’s former Barcelona team-mate Gerard Pique is expected to play, several Spanish clubs have refused to release players for a friendly that is not a recognised international.
“I put myself in the shoes of their coaches and I have no problem in understanding,” said coach Gerard Lopez. “They play a lot.”
Venezuela are preparing in Spain for the Copa America. On Friday, they beat Argentina in Madrid.
After the victory, coach Rafael Dudamel offered to resign after accusing Antonio Ecarri, representative in Madrid of Venezuela’s opposition leader Juan Guaido, of using a meeting with the team for political purposes by tweeting photos.
Dudamel said he would lead Venezuela on Monday and then discuss his future with the president of the country’s football federation.
Catalonia’s deposed president Carles Puigdemont returns to Belgium on Saturday to keep pressing for his region’s independence after a Spanish judge dropped a European arrest warrant for him.
“My political activity will be based in Belgium, of course with the aim of pursuing the mandate by the people” for an independent Catalonia, Puigdemont said in Berlin when he announced his return this week.
Four months after he was detained in Germany at Madrid’s request, Puigdemont can return to Belgium as he no longer runs the risk of extradition to Spain after the Spanish court cancelled the warrant.
The 55-year-old former regional leader, with his signature shaggy Beatles-style mop, will continue to fight for Catalan independence south of Brussels in the town of Waterloo, which is known for another battle – French emperor Napoleon’s defeat by a mix of European forces in 1815.
Sacked as Catalan president after a failed secession bid on October 27, Puigdemont and several members of his executive fled to Brussels several days later.
He was then arrested in Germany at the end of March on his return from a trip to Finland.
Puigdemont was freed on bail around 10 days later and set about waiting for a German court decision on an extradition request by Spain, where he is wanted over his role in the independence drive.
But the German court ruled that he could be extradited only on possible corruption charges and not for “rebellion” as sought by Madrid but which is not recognised under German law.
Following that decision, Spain’s Supreme Court judge Pablo Llarena, in charge of the case against separatist leaders, dropped the international arrest warrant.
From Belgium, Puigdemont will be able to travel where he likes, save Spain where he is still wanted for rebellion, which carries up to 25 years in jail, and for misuse of public funds.
In theory, he could remain in self-exile for 20 years, which in Spain’s legal system is the time limit after which the rebellion charge would no longer be valid.
Puigdemont is set to be greeted by a welcoming party comprising members of Catalonia’s government as well as other pro-independence organisations.
Puigdemont will hold a news conference with his designated successor Quim Torra, who still considers him to be the “legitimate president” of Catalonia, at 11:00 am (0900 GMT) on Saturday.
He will then head to Waterloo for a ceremony at 4:00 pm.
Puigdemont intends to set up a “Republican council” at his home in Waterloo, as well as an assembly composed of local officials to work in parallel with the Catalan government.
Time for action
Although power is now officially in the Torra’s hands, Puigdemont continues to exert strong influence in the region.
In an illustration of Puigdemont’s influence, he managed to reverse his party’s stance for greater openness for dialogue with Madrid.
“In Brussels, we will continue… to develop activities linked to that which the people of Catalonia approved on October 1,” said Puigdemont, in reference to the referendum that was banned by Spain’s courts and marred by police violence.
“It’s no longer a Spanish affair that can be resolved internally; a European view is necessary for the Catalonia question,” said the region’s former president, who expects to travel to other European countries to push his case.
Besides Puigdemont, five other leading members of his pro-independence movement are in Belgium, Switzerland and Scotland.
Torra met Spain’s new Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez in early July, with the socialist leader promising to find a way out of the crisis.
Puigdemont wants Sanchez to allow a referendum on the question of independence for Catalonia — something that the prime minister has refused categorically.
He also wants Spain to release nine separatists.
“The change in Spain’s government is supposed to come with a change in style and climate… but it’s not the time for gestures, it’s the time for action,” he said
Catalonia’s new separatist president on Wednesday postponed the swearing in of his administration after Madrid rejected four regional ministers who are in jail or exile over the region’s independence push.
Catalan president Quim Torra, who took office last week, denounced in a statement the “blockage exercised by the Spanish government” against his government and announced he had asked his team to “study the legal measures that can be taken” to solve the impasse.
Spain’s central government, which imposed direct rule over Catalonia last October after a failed declaration of independence, has refused to ratify the decree signed by Torra on Saturday to nominate his administration.
Madrid will only end its direct rule over Catalonia once a new regional government is in office.
Torra included in his adminstration four former regional ministers in ousted Catalan president Carles Puigdemont’s government.
Two are currently being held in custody just outside Madrid over their role in Catalonia’s separatist push while another two are in exile in Belgium. Spain has asked for their extradition.
Conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who considers the inclusion of these four ministers in Torra’s administration a “new provocation”, has ten days to publish the list of the new Catalan government in an official government journal, and thus allow them to take office.
But there is no guarantee that his government will do so even though Torra said in the statement that this is “an obligatory act”.
The row has prolonged the political impasse in the wealthy northeastern region of Spain, which has been without a government for nearly seven months.
Puigdemont and his government were dismissed by Madrid after October’s declaration of independence. Separatist parties once again won a slim majority of seats in the Catalan parliament in a December regional election called by Rajoy, capturing 47.5 percent of the vote.
Puigdemont is currently in Germany facing extradition to Spain for “rebellion” over his role in Catalonia’s separatist push.
German police on Sunday arrested Catalonia’s deposed leader, Carles Puigdemont, five months after he went into self-imposed exile in Belgium over his failed bid to break the region away from Spain.
Here is a summary of what happened.
Secret escape to Brussels
Madrid is furious when the Catalan parliament votes on October 27 to declare independence in line with a “yes” vote from a banned independence referendum on October 1.
It dissolves the parliament, dismisses its separatist leaders, and calls regional elections for December 21.
Spanish prosecutors seek to charge Puigdemont and others with rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds.
He and four parliamentarians surface in Brussels on October 30 after reportedly driving to Marseille in France and taking a plane to the Belgian capital.
Puigdemont tells reporters he came to Belgium “for safety purposes and freedom”.
His deputy Oriol Junqueras and other deposed regional ministers are detained on November 2.
Separatists vote back
The December 21 election votes separatist parties back into power with 70 seats combined out of 135.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy says late December the new regional parliament must reconvene in January and elect a regional president other than Puigdemont.
“It is absurd to pretend to be the president of a region when you live abroad,” he says.
The following day, Puigdemont demands from Brussels that Madrid reinstate his government and “restore all they have expropriated from the Catalans without their say-so”.
Puigdemont candidacy backed
Rajoy says on January 15 that Madrid will maintain direct control of Catalonia if Puigdemont tries to govern from exile. He has “to be physically present” in Catalonia to take office, the prime minister says.
But on January 22 the speaker of the Catalan parliament formally proposes Puigdemont as president.
Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido responds that troops are on alert 24/7 to prevent the Catalan from sneaking home, “even in the boot of a car”.
From Brussels, Puigdemont demands the right to return “to contribute to restoring democracy in order to respect election results”.
Spain reiterates on January 26 that it wants Puigdemont arrested.
A “fugitive, someone who is on the run from the law and the courts, cannot be illegitimately sworn in”, Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria says.
On January 27 the Constitutional Court suspends the official appointment of Puigdemont unless he appears in person.
Puigdemont had suggested he could be sworn into office remotely via video conference from Brussels.
On January 30 the speaker of parliament postpones a vote to formally re-elect Puigdemont into office.
On February 1 the jailed former Catalan vice president, Junqueras, suggests Puigdemont could rule as a “symbolic” president with a fully functioning executive on site.
Abandon and arrest
In a solemn video posted on social media on March 1, Puigdemont announces that he has abandoned his bid for the regional presidency.
A Spanish judge on March 23 issues international arrest warrants against Puigdemont and four other Catalan ministers over their role in the region’s independence push.
German police arrest Puigdemont as he crossed the border with Denmark by car.
His lawyer says Puigdemont was on his way back to Belgium from Finland, where he held talks with local lawmakers.
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola was Friday charged by the Football Association over his wearing of a yellow ribbon in support of jailed Catalan independence leaders.
The FA said in a statement that the symbol worn by the former Barcelona boss on his jacket was in breach of its kit and advertising regulations.
Guardiola, whose side face Arsenal in the League Cup final on Sunday, has until March 5 to respond to the charge.
“Pep Guardiola has been charged for wearing a political message, specifically a yellow ribbon, in breach of the FA’s kit and advertising regulations,” the FA statement said.
“He has until 6:00 pm (1800 GMT) on Monday 5 March 2018 to respond to the charge.”
Following events last year surrounding Catalonia’s bid to break away from Spain, which included a referendum and a proclamation of independence, both deemed illegal, authorities jailed several leaders of the movement.
The City manager, who was born in Catalonia, has previously explained his reasons for wearing the ribbon.
Referring to the first two independence leaders to be jailed, he said in December: “I do that because in Spain two specific people who defend something like the vote, something the people in command do not agree (with), are in prison. It’s unfair.
“To make a rebellion on something like that, you have to be something tough to be in prison. And they are still there. So, while they are not out, always here (points to ribbon) will be shared with me.
“Because, OK, they can suspend me for doing that, but the other people are in jail. If they want to suspend me — UEFA, Premier League, FIFA — it’s OK.”
The City boss explained his stance in response to comments from Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho, who questioned whether the ribbon was within the rules and claimed he would not be allowed to do a similar thing.
Spain’s constitutional court on Saturday announced it was blocking Catalonia’s ousted separatist leader Carles Puigdemont from returning to power in the region while he remains the subject of legal action.
The court said in a statement that its 12 magistrates had decided unanimously “to preventively suspend the investiture of Puigdemont unless he appears in the (regional) parliament in person with prior judicial authorisation”.
Puigdemont, who fled to Belgium after the Catalan parliament declared independence in October, was earlier this week chosen as a candidate to lead Catalonia again, with the regional parliament set to vote for a new leader on Tuesday in Barcelona.
However, he faces arrest for rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds over his attempt to break Catalonia away from Spain as soon as he returns to the country.
Puigdemont has said he could be sworn in to office remotely via videoconference from Brussels, a plan Spain’s central government opposes.
He has also said he would rather return to Spain, but without any risk of arrest.
The constitutional court warned all members of the Catalan parliament of “their responsibilities” and warned against disobeying the order to suspend any investiture.
The magistrates said they needed six more days to consider a government bid to annul the nomination of Puigdemont as a candidate for the regional presidency.
“The government must use every tool made available by the laws and the constitution to make sure that a fugitive, someone who is on the run from the law and the courts, cannot be illegitimately be sworn in,” Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said Friday after the government lodged the legal bid to keep Puigdemont from returning to power.
After the court’s announcement, Puigdemont tweeted that “even the constitutional court has rejected the tricks of Moncloa,” referring to the prime minister’s official residence.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said on Twitter that “the government would continue to do its duty in respecting the law”.
Catalonia’s ousted separatist government pushed ahead with an independence referendum on October 1 despite it having been banned by the Constitutional Court.
It won the public vote but Catalonia’s independence declaration on October 27 was short-lived as Rajoy moved to stop the crisis in a region deeply divided over secession.
He imposed direct rule on the semi-autonomous region, sacked its government including Puigdemont, dissolved its parliament and called snap elections.