Spanish riot police broke up a blockade by Catalan separatists on major motorways in Catalonia Tuesday, part of a wave of protests over the arrest and detention of ex-regional president Carles Puigdemont.
Television images showed riot police surrounding protesters who had sat down in the middle of motorway AP-7, which links Spain to neighbouring France. Police removed the protesters one by one facing a chorus of boos from the pro-Catalan independence activists.
Motorists on Tuesday morning were forced to take alternate routes to avoid the roads briefly blocked around the northeast Spanish region, including the two main access roads into Barcelona.
The demonstration was called by the radical Committees for the Defence of the Republic (CDR), which were set up just before Catalonia held an independence referendum on October 1 that was banned by the 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 following mass demonstrations the day before.
The group is now planning another action at 1600 GMT to surround the main Sants train station in Barcelona.
After his arrest in Germany on Sunday, a court there has ordered Puigdemont to remain in custody pending possible extradition to Spain to face “rebellion” charges.
His arrest comes five months after he went on the run as Spanish prosecutors sought to charge him with sedition and rebellion in the wake of Catalonia’s failed independence bid in October last year.
Aside from Puigdemont, nine other Catalan separatist leaders are in jail in Spain over the wealthy northeastern region’s failed breakaway attempt.
According to his lawyer Jaume Alonso-Cuevillas, Puigdemont was on his way back to Belgium, where he lived in self-imposed exile after Spanish authorities moved to impose direct rule over Catalonia.
A ruling on extradition must normally be made within 60 days under German law. A spokeswoman for the German prosecutor’s office told AFP it would “probably not come this week” ahead of the four-day Easter holiday.
Protests in Barcelona
The ousted president’s detention marks the latest chapter in a secession saga that has bitterly divided Catalans and triggered Spain’s worst political crisis in decades.
Tuesday’s road blockades followed protests in Barcelona on Sunday, when Catalan riot police shoved and hit demonstrators with batons to keep the crowd from advancing on the Spanish government’s representative office.
Officers fired warning shots in the air to try to contain the demonstrators, who pushed large recycling containers towards police. Some people threw glass bottles, cans and eggs at police.
About 90 people were slightly injured during the protests, including 22 police officers, emergency services said.
‘Solution can be found’
The case lands a diplomatic hot potato in German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s lap less than two weeks after her new government was sworn in.
Her spokesman insisted Monday that the decision on Puigdemont’s extradition rested solely in the hands of the German regional justice authorities.
Spain’s deputy prime minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria welcomed the arrest as “good news”, saying: “No one can make a mockery of the courts forever.”
Protesters in Barcelona saw the move as a provocation, while Catalan parliament speaker Roger Torrent appealed for calm in an address broadcast on regional television.
On Friday, Spain’s supreme court issued international arrest warrants for 13 Catalan separatists including Puigdemont and his nominated successor Jordi Turull.
The court said they would be prosecuted for “rebellion”, a charge which carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison.
Twelve more face less serious charges such as disobedience.
Issuing the warrant for Puigdemont on Friday, Judge Pablo Llarena accused the ousted Catalan leader of organising the referendum in October last year despite a ban from Madrid and the risk of violence.
That vote had been swiftly followed by the Catalan parliament’s declaration of independence on October 27.
‘Revenge and repression’
Puigdemont had been visiting Finland since Thursday, but slipped out of the country before Finnish police could detain him.
In Geneva, the UN Human Rights Committee said it had registered a complaint from Puigdemont, which his lawyer has earlier said concerned Madrid violating Puigdemont’s right to be elected and his freedom of expression and association.
Elsa Artadi, a lawmaker with Puigdemont’s Together for Catalonia party, said he should fight his extradition.
“Spain does not guarantee a fair trial; only revenge and repression,” she wrote on Twitter.
While separatist parties won Catalonia’s regional elections which were called by Madrid in December, they have been unable to elect a president and form a government as their chosen candidates are now either in exile, in jail or facing prosecution.
Fresh regional elections will be triggered if a new leader is not elected by May 22.