Thousands march in Barcelona to protest jailing of separatist leaders

BARCELONA (AFP) – Thousands of people began marching in Barcelona yesterday to protest the jailing of nine Catalan separatist leaders facing trial on “rebellion” charges.

Many chanted “Freedom for the political prisoners” as they massed on the Parallel Avenue, one of the city’s main streets, wearing yellow scarves, sweaters or jackets – the colour chosen to show solidarity with the jailed leaders.

The march was called by a platform set up in March to “defend Catalan institutions” and “the rights and fundamental freedoms” of its citizens.

The protest was backed by the Catalan branches of Spain’s two largest trade unions, the CCOO and the UGT, sparking unease among union members who oppose independence for the wealthy northeastern region.

“There have been tensions among unions members just like in the rest of the Catalan society,” the secretary general of the Catalan branch of UGT, Camil Ros, told AFP on Saturday on the eve of the march.

People hold up big letters forming the word ‘freedom’ during a demonstration to support Catalan pro-independence jailed leaders in Barcelona yesterday. – AFP

“But it is not a separatist protest. It is time to build bridges and the Catalan problem cannot be solved through the courts but by dialogue and politics,” he added.

The demonstration comes ten days after a German court dismissed an extradition request for Catalonia’s ousted separatist president Carles Puigdemont on grounds of rebellion and released him on bail.

Spanish prosecutors last week handed over new information to Germany they hope will prove the use of violence which would justify the rebellion charge against Puigdemont and their extradition request.

Puigdemont is also accused of misuse of public funds for staging an independence referendum in Catalonia on October 1 last year despite it having been ruled unconstitutional by the courts.

Alex de Ferrer, a 50-year-old IT specialist, said he planned to take part in the protest because jailing separatist leaders “only serves to manufacture separatists”.

The independence movement is “a bit decapitated” following the arrests of its leaders but “this is temporary”, added de Ferrer, who supports leftist separatist party ERC, whose leader Oriol Junqueras is in jail.