Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 10 December 2019

French police hit back at pro-Catalan independence protests on border

The separatist protesters had blocked a major motorway between France and Spain

French police officers look at pro-Catalan independence demonstrators blocking a major highway border pass near La Jonquera between Spain and France AP
French police officers look at pro-Catalan independence demonstrators blocking a major highway border pass near La Jonquera between Spain and France AP

French police have used pepper spray and batons against pro-Catalan independence protesters blocking a major motorway between France and Spain.

Police began towing vehicles and debris from the site of the protests with the aim of reopening the main traffic artery.

The intervention by the security services led to scuffles with some of the protesters. Several hundred protesters descended on the La Jonquera border crossing between France and Spain on early Monday morning.

The important trade and trucking route between the two countries normally remains open because both are members of the European Union’s Schengen Area of free movement.

The protesters gathered on the French and Spanish sides of the border to bring attention to the pro-Catalan independence movement. The region in north east Spain has been hit by a series of mass protests in recent weeks after custodial sentences were handed down to nine separatist leaders who spearheaded a failed independence bid in 2017.

While previous protests by the independence movement had been peaceful, the most recent demonstrations, centring on the Catalan capital of Barcelona, have been characterised by violence.

Predominantly young protesters have torched cars, blocked traffic and thrown petrol bombs at police in the city.

Unrest in Catalonia has been one of the dominating issues of recent Spanish elections, which have returned an even more fractured parliament with seats distributed equally between a constellation of parties.

The nationalist movements in Catalonia and in the Basque country, in the north east of Spain, now expect to be empowered by the emergence of a broad left-wing coalition to block the Spanish political right’s path to power.

The far-right Vox party, which has opposed the country’s devolved governments and advocated a dramatic re-centralisation of power in Madrid, won 15 per cent of the vote and secured 52 seats by exploiting anger related to the separatist clashes.

According to Spanish newspaper El Pais, Catalonia’s devolved government on Tuesday passed a motion to reassert the right of the autonomous regional government to self-determination. The approval was viewed as a shot across the bow of the country’s constitutional court which sentenced the nine separatist leaders including former Catalan vice president Oriol Junqueras in October.

A top adviser to the EU's highest court has said it should be down to the European Parliament to decide if Mr Junqueras should qualify for immunity.

In a non-binding opinion Tuesday, the European Court of Justice's advocate general said the European Parliament should vote to decide if Mr Junqueras should qualify for immunity.

His case was referred to the European Court of Justice by Spain's highest court after the Madrid-based court sentenced him to 13 years for sedition and misuse of public funds, barring him from taking up his seat.

Updated: November 12, 2019 06:25 PM

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