Barcelona protesters demand activists' release

AP , Tuesday 17 Oct 2017

Barcelona protest
Holding signs reading in Catalan 'freedom', people gather to protest against the National Court's decision to imprison civil society leaders without bail, in Barcelona, Spain, Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2017 (Photo: AP)

Thousands of people are protesting in Barcelona to demand the release of two Catalan pro-independence activists jailed a day earlier by Spanish authorities in a sedition case.

The demonstrators have flooded a main avenue, holding up candles, pro-independence "estelada" flags and chanted "political prisoners, freedom."

The jailed activists are Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Cuixart, who lead two different grassroots groups.

On Monday, a Madrid judge provisionally jailed Sanchez and Cuixart in a sedition investigation. The judge ruled they were behind huge demonstrations Sept. 20-21 in Barcelona that hindered the police operation against preparations for an Oct. 1 independence referendum.

Spain's top court has ruled that the referendum was unconstitutional, adding legal weight to the government's efforts to block an attempt by the region to break away from Spain.

A Catalan official says the jailing of two prominent Catalan separatist activists shows how the central Spanish authorities in Madrid are choosing "repression over dialogue."

The Spanish government has said no dialogue can take place if Catalan independence on the table because reforming Spain's Constitution in the national parliament is the only legal way a region can secede.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's conservative government has threatened to take over some or all of Catalonia's regional powers if separatist authorities don't fall in line by Thursday morning.

Catalonia cabinet spokesman Jordi Turull, however, says central authorities don't need to wait for the deadline. He says "from now to Thursday, the state has the opportunity to sit down and talk." Noting the victory of the region's dispute Oct. 1 independence vote, Turull said "surrendering is obviously not part of this government's plan."

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