The Latest: Judge closes secretive Catalan separatist sites
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — The Latest on the situation in Catalonia (all times local):
A spokesman for Spain’s National Court says that a judge has ordered the closure of websites linked to an online group behind some of this week’s mass reactions to the imprisonment of Catalan separatist leaders.
Tsunami Democratic has been the focus of Spanish authorities since thousands followed the group’s call to disrupt operations of Barcelona’s international airport on Monday, when the convictions of 12 separatist politicians and activists were announced.
The spokesman, who wasn’t authorized to be named in the media, confirmed that Friday’s order to shut down the websites of Tsunami Democratic came from Investigating Judge Manuel García Castejón. He declined to elaborate because the case is sealed.
The secretive group first surfaced on Sept. 2 and in just over six weeks has gained nearly 340,000 followers on its main channel in Telegram, an encrypted messaging app.
Tens of thousands of flag-waving demonstrators demanding Catalonia’s independence and the release from prison of separatist leaders have flooded downtown Barcelona.
The protesters have poured into the city after some of them walked for three days in “Freedom marches” from towns across the northeastern Spanish region.
They have joined students and workers who have also taken to the streets during a general strike Friday.
The separatists’ show of strength has been overwhelmingly peaceful, capping five days of protests that have been unusually violent.
Demonstrations began Monday, after the Supreme Court convicted 12 politicians and activists who tried to break the region away from Spain in 2017. Nine of them have been imprisoned for up to 13 years for sedition.
Spain’s interim prime minister says that mass protests in Catalonia over the imprisonment of Catalan separatists are proof that illegal actions are punished in Spain but not political ideas.
Pedro Sánchez is facing a general election in less than one month amid mounting tensions in the northeastern Catalan region over the conviction of a dozen separatist leaders.
Speaking to reporters in Brussels after a meeting of European leaders, the Socialist leader said Friday that Spain guarantees freedom to protest but vowed to prosecute radicals who rioted this week.
“The rule is clear,” Sánchez said. “Those who break the law have to answer for their deeds sooner or later.”
He also urged Catalonia’s pro-independence government to stop ignoring the roughly half of the region’s 5.5 million voters who, according to polls and recent election results, want to remain in Spain.
The Spanish soccer federation has postponed next week’s marquee game between Barcelona and Real Madrid due to a fear of more street violence in Catalonia.
Barcelona is the capital of Spain’s northeastern Catalonia region, which has recently seen clashes between police and protesters angered by a Supreme Court decision to sentence nine separatist leaders to prison.
Separatist groups have called for supporters to rally in Barcelona on Oct. 26, the planned date of the match.
The federation, in consultation with government officials, says it isn’t safe to play on the same day as the rally.
The federation’s competitions committee said Barcelona and Madrid have until Monday to decide on another date for the game. If the clubs cannot agree, then the committee will choose.
Spain’s Supreme Court says that an investigating judge is telling Belgian judicial authorities that former Catalan regional president Carles Puigdemont possesses no parliamentary immunity that might prevent his extradition to Spain.
A court statement says Belgian authorities asked for clarification on the matter early Friday.
Puigdemont is sought by Spain on possible charges of sedition and misuse of public funds. He has so far avoided extradition from Germany and Belgium, where he fled at the end of 2017, following a failed attempt to declare independence in the wealthy region.
The separatist leader was elected as a European lawmaker in May. But the court says Judge Pablo Llarena is telling Belgium that Puigdemont didn’t take office because he didn’t swear on the Spanish Constitution — a pre-requisite under Spain’s electoral rules.
Fugitive former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont has handed himself in to Belgian justice authorities after Spain issued a new warrant for his arrest following the sentencing of 12 of his former colleagues.
Puigdemont’s office said Friday that he, “in the company of his lawyers, voluntarily appeared before Belgian authorities” in relation to the arrest warrant.
It said that Puigdemont rejects the warrant and opposes any attempt to send him back to Spain.
It was not immediately clear whether he is still being questioned or held.
Puigdemont and a number of his associates fled to Belgium in October 2017 after they were summoned to court over the secessionist push he led and the holding of an independence referendum that the Spanish government said was illegal.
The Catalan regional capital is bracing for a fifth day of protests over the conviction of a dozen independence leaders.
Clashes with police broke out in Barcelona late on Thursday when a mob of far-right anti-independence activists tried to storm a big separatist protest. Health authorities in the region say 18 people were injured and the regional police arrested 11 protesters.
Spain’s central authorities say that 46 flights into and out of the region are canceled Friday due to a general strike called by pro-independence unions. Picketers have also blocked the border with France at the major crossing point of La Jonquera.
Five marches of tens of thousands of people from inland towns are expected to converge in Barcelona’s center on Friday afternoon for a mass protest with striking students and workers.