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Flights cancelled by protests after Spanish Supreme Court convicts Catalan leaders

Nine separatist leaders received between 9 and 13 years in prison for sedition, leading to a mass demonstration at Barcelona airport

Protesters clash with Spanish policemen outside El Prat airport in Barcelona on Monday. AFP
Protesters clash with Spanish policemen outside El Prat airport in Barcelona on Monday. AFP

Spanish police charged at Catalan pro-independence protesters at the entrance to the Barcelona international airport on Monday after Spain's Supreme court jailed nine separatist leaders, El Mundo newspaper said.

Video footage showed police using batons on some of the demonstrators, some of them masked and hooded, who pushed and shoved in return.

There were also reports of police using rubber bullets to disperse protesters.

Thousands of people were gathered outside and dozens were in one of the access halls to the airport.

Authorities at the airport said at least 20 flights had been cancelled due to the protests.

Spain's Supreme Court had earlier sentenced nine Catalan separatist leaders to between 9 and 13 years in prison for sedition over their role in the region's 2017 failed bid for independence.

The longest sentence issued by the court on Monday was given to the former regional vice president, Oriol Junqueras, jailed for 13 years for sedition and misuse of public funds.

The three other defendants in the landmark ruling, which stemmed from the holding of a referendum that had been banned and a short-lived independence declaration, were found guilty only of disobedience and not sentenced to prison.

All the defendants were acquitted of the gravest charge, rebellion, but other leading separatists were quick to call the ruling an "atrocity" and an "attack on democracy".

The 12 were tried for their actions in a 2017 attempt by Catalonia to break away from Spain following an illegal independence referendum.

"What happened on October 1 was not just a demonstration or a massive act of citizen protest. If that had been the case, there would have been no criminal sentencing. It was a tumultuous uprising encouraged by the accused, among many others," the Madrid court said in its ruling, delivered in writing rather than in an open session.

The former head of Catalonia's regional government, Carles Puigdemont, said the prison sentences for the separatist leaders were an "atrocity".

"Today we are all condemned, not just 12 people. This sentence is an attack on democracy and the rights of all citizens," said the head of Catalonia's regional parliament, Roger Torrent.

Separatist protests have been largely peaceful but police sources have said authorities are prepared for any violence.

After the ruling was published, the CDR grass roots movement tweeted: "It's time to rise up against the authoritarian fascism of the Spanish state and its accomplices. It is time for the #RevoltaPopular [popular revolt]."

Outside the Lledoners prison in the Catalan town of Sant Joan de Villatorrada where the leaders were being held, men embraced after learning the Supreme Court's verdict.

The government has said it is ready to take direct control of Catalonia as it did in 2017 if secessionist leaders break the law.

The ruling is likely to colour a national election on November 10, Spain's fourth in four years, and influence the direction taken by the separatist movement.

An opinion poll in July showed 48.3 per cent of Catalans against secession and 44 per cent in favour.

Updated: October 14, 2019 08:04 PM

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