Catalonia protests and general strike paralyse Barcelona

Media captionTens of thousands joined a “Freedom March” in Barcelona

A fifth day of protests and a general strike have brought Barcelona to a halt amid ongoing fury over jailed Catalan separatist leaders.

Tens of thousands of demonstrators entered the city on Friday, stopping trains and and blocking roads.

Barcelona and Real Madrid football teams postponed a match they were due to play on 26 October.

The famous rivals had been set to meet in El Clásico – a hugely popular clash due to be held at Barcelona’s stadium.

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And Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia church – one of the city’s main tourist attractions – was shut down after protesters blocked its entrance.

In a statement posted on its official Twitter account, the church said a group of protesters was standing at the entrance and interfering with access to the interior.

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The Supreme Court decision on Monday to jail nine Catalan separatist leaders set off some of the worst street violence Spain has seen for decades. At least 96 people were hurt as the protests spread across Spain’s north-eastern region.

On Wednesday, barricades were set alight and petrol bombs thrown as riots gripped the centre of Barcelona.

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Roads were blocked as protesters marched towards Barcelona calling for jailed Catalan leaders to be freed

So far on Friday, the protests have been peaceful. A large demonstration was under way outside the city’s university, with hundreds of thousands of other protesters from across the Catalonia region due to converge on Barcelona later in the day.

Demonstrators blocked at least 20 major roads, including the main cross-border motorway with France, by sitting down on the carriageways.

Why are people protesting?

The protests began after nine pro-independence leaders were jailed for between nine and 13 years by Spain’s Supreme Court earlier this week.

The separatists were convicted of sedition over their role in an independence referendum in 2017 which was outlawed by the Spanish courts. Another three were found guilty of disobedience and fined but not jailed. All 12 defendants denied the charges.

Former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont is still wanted by the Spanish authorities for his role in the referendum. He currently resides in Belgium. If he returns to Spain, he will be arrested.

What is behind the Catalonia unrest?

Catalan nationalists have long complained that their region, which has a distinct history dating back almost 1,000 years, sends too much money to poorer parts of Spain via taxes which are controlled by Madrid.

The wealthy region is home to about 7.5 million people, with their own language, parliament, flag and anthem.

In September, a march in Barcelona in support of Catalonia’s independence from Spain drew crowds of about 600,000 people – one of the lowest turnouts in the eight-year history of the annual rally.