Catalan separatists block Spain-France highway

La Jonquera (Spain) (AFP) –


Catalan separatists blocked traffic on a motorway linking Spain and France, in a fresh protest Monday against the sentencing last month of nine of their leaders to lengthy jail terms.

Demonstrators cut the AP7 motorway at La Jonquera near the city of Girona in eastern Spain, a day after a general election.

While Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's Socialist party emerged as winners but weakened, the far-right party Vox surged to third place on the strength of its hardline stance against separatism.

Dozens of vehicles blocked the motorway -- an important truck route between the two countries -- while some 300 people set up a barricade, according to an AFP photographer at the scene.

Several demonstrators, some of them with their faces covered, held up banners which read "Everyone to La Jonquera" in Catalan. Electronic billboards warned the highway was closed due to a protest.

The protest was called by a new organisation called "Democratic Tsunami", which said it would last for three days.

The demonstrators were equipped with cooking utensils, gas cylinders, foldable tables, food, coffee and water. Some set up a stage and speakers which they brought to the scene in vans.

- 'Sit down and talk' -

"This mobilisation is a cry to the international community so that it makes the Spanish state understand that the only possible path is to sit down and talk," the group said in a message to its followers on encrypted messaging service Telegram.

Radical separatist group CDR also called on its supporters to head to La Jonquera to block the highway.

Catalonia's regional road department confirmed the motorway was cut in both directions.

Catalonia was rocked by days of mass, sometimes violent, pro-independence rallies after Spain's Supreme Court on October 14 handed down jail terms to nine politicians and activists for their role in the failed 2017 secession bid.

The day the court issued its verdict, "Democratic Tsunami" sent thousands of people to block access to Barcelona airport in a protest that ended in clashes between demonstrators and police.

Many shops in downtown Barcelona have been shut during the rallies and there are growing concerns about the impact of the unrest on business in Spain's second largest city and its tourism capital.