Catalan independence leaders had ‘totalitarian attitude’, says Spain’s FM

Protests sparked by the jailing of nine separatist politicians continued on Tuesday

TOPSHOT - Protesters clash with a Spanish policeman outside El Prat airport in Barcelona on October 14, 2019 as thousands of angry protesters took to the streets after Spain's Supreme Court sentenced nine Catalan separatist leaders to between nine and 13 years in jail for sedition over the failed 2017 independence bid.  As the news broke, demonstrators turned out en masse, blocking streets in Barcelona and elsewhere as police braced for what activists said would be a mass response of civil disobedience. / AFP / Josep LAGO
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Protests took place in Catalonia again on Tuesday as Spain’s foreign minister Josep Borrell accused separatists of acting in a “totalitarian” manner by refusing to compromise with opponent of secession.

The regional transport system suffered severe disruption as a result of demonstrations that began on Monday after nine pro-secession Catalan leaders were jailed for their part in the 2017 failed independence bid.

So far least 170 people have been injured, including 40 police officers, in clashes between protesters and police at Barcelona’s international airport as well as towns and cities in the region. Three people were arrested, authorities said.

One man was reported to have lost an eye after being hit in the face with a rubber bullet fired by police.

Around 20 flights were cancelled at Barcelona’s El Prat airport on Tuesday in comparison with 110 the day before, Spain’s airport operator AENA said. Students are due to begin a three-day strike on Wednesday.

Mr Borrell, who is soon to become the European Union's top diplomat, conceded the sentencing had not resolved tensions in the region.

“Yesterday, today and tomorrow it is and remains a political problem that has to be solved,” Mr Borrell told foreign reporters.

“When one excludes part of the population because they don’t think like one, and only considers as the people those who think like one, this is a totalitarian attitude,” the Catalan minister, who hails from the province of Lleida, added.

Spain's Supreme Court sentenced the Catalan separatist leaders to between nine and 13 years in prison for sedition over their role in the holding of a banned referendum and a short-lived independence declaration.

Former regional vice president, Oriol Junqueras, received the longest jail sentence of 13 years for sedition and misuse of public funds.

Three other defendants in the landmark ruling were found guilty of disobedience and were fined.

The convicted politicians have been banned from holding public office impacting six of them who were planning to stand in Spain’s November 10 general election.

Catalonia's former regional president Carles Puigdemont, center, holds a banner with others during a protest in front of the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019. New disruptions to Catalonia's transportation network on Tuesday followed a night of clashes between activists and police over the conviction of separatist leaders, as Spanish authorities announced an investigation into the group organizing the protests. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

A Spanish judge renewed an international arrest warrant for Carles Puigdemont, the former president of Catalonia who fled Spain after the secession bid.

Mr Puigdemont protested with other supporters of independence for the region outside the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium.

He said: “We need the whole support of European democrats. Because that crisis concerns European democracy and the quality of European democracy. It is not a Catalan, a regional or a Spanish issue.”

The sentencings could invigorate the north-eastern Spanish region’s independence movement with Catalan’s president Quim Torra calling for a referendum to be held.

“We have to continue defending the right of Catalonia to self-determination,” Mr Torra told foreign reporters in Barcelona on Tuesday. “A referendum is the most positive solution for solving this situation.”

According to a Catalan government poll published in July, 44 per cent of voters in the wealthy region support independence, while 48.3 per cent are opposed. The highest support for independence was found in December 2017, two months after the referendum.