Spain’s Supreme Court sentenced nine Catalan separatist leaders to heavy jail terms Monday over the failed 2017 independence bid, bringing thousands of angry protesters on to the streets of Barcelona and blocked access to its airport.
The long-awaited ruling capped weeks of rising tension, and puts the Catalan question at the heart of the political debate less than a month before Spain heads into its fourth general election in as many years.
As the news broke, demonstrators flooded the streets of Barcelona before marching towards El Prat, Spain’s second busiest airport, where they briefly choked-off road and rail access.
At the entrance to the airport, police charged at protesters trying to get inside, correspondent said, while the AENA airport authority said some 20 flights had been cancelled.
Outside, traffic was at a complete standstill up to five kilometres (three miles) from the airport, with many travellers with suitcases getting out and walking as a police helicopter flew overhead.
Since the early hours, police have been braced for what activists pledged would be a mass response of civil disobedience.
“I feel very affected by the sentence even though I expected it. I feel fury and a sense of powerlessness,” said Joan Guich, a 19-year-old maths student who was protesting on Gran Via.
The 12 defendants were put on trial in February for their role in the banned October 1, 2017 referendum and the short-lived independence declaration that followed it.
The harshest sentence of 13 years was handed to former Catalan vice president Oriol Junqueras who served as the main defendant in absence of Carles Puigdemont, the region’s leader who fled Spain to avoid prosecution.
In a tweet from Brussels, Puigdemont denounced the sentences as an “outrage”
“100 years in all. An outrage. Now more than ever, by your side and those of your families. It is time to react as never before,” he wrote.
And in a letter released on Monday, Junqueras said the story was far from over.
Spain’s government has expressed hope the trial’s end would allow it to move on from the crisis in the wealthy northeastern region, where support for independence has gained momentum over the past decade.
“Following the Supreme Court decision we need to turn the page… through dialogue,” Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said, speaking in English.
But shortly afterwards, a judge issued a new international arrest warrant for Puigdemont, a clear indication Spain would not rest until he and five others who fled abroad had been tried for their role in the crisis.