Puigdemont turns himself in; protests paralyse Catalonia

Puigdemont has handed himself in to Belgian justice authorities while thousands march towards Barcelona.

    The pro-independence demonstrations continued for a fifth day with protests over the conviction of independence leaders. [Jon Nazca/Reuters]
    The pro-independence demonstrations continued for a fifth day with protests over the conviction of independence leaders. [Jon Nazca/Reuters]

    Fugitive former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont has handed himself in to Belgian justice authorities while Spain's northeastern Catalonia region and its riot-swept regional capital, Barcelona, were paralyzed by a mix of strikes and marches.

    The pro-independence demonstrations continued for a fifth day with protests over the conviction of independence leaders.

    Puigdemont's office said on 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.

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    Puigdemont and a number of his associates fled to Belgium in October 2017 after they were summoned to court over his involvement in organizing an independence referendum which was ruled illegal.

    A week of protests

    Thousands of protestors are marching towards Barcelona from all over the Catalonian region as part of a wave of demonstrations which was triggered by Spain’s Supreme Court’s decision on Monday to sentence nine politicians between nine to 13 years in prison for their participation in the 2017 referendum.

    Spain's central authorities said that 57 flights into and out of the region were canceled for the day.

    Picketers also closed off to traffic the border with France across the Pyrenees and burned tires or blocked dozens of roads and highways across the northeastern region.

    Commuter and long-distance train services were reduced significantly, and many shops and factories did not open for business.

    Architect Antoni Gaudí's modernist Sagrada Familia, a tourist magnet in central Barcelona, closed its doors due to a protest blocking the access to the basilica.

    Highways were occupied by thousands of people joining five marches from inland towns that are expected to converge in Barcelona's city centre on Friday afternoon for a mass protest with striking students and workers.

    Farmers in tractors are joining some of the so-called "Freedom marches," organised by the grassroots pro-independence ANC and Omnium groups.

    Port workers and employees of Volkswagen subsidiary Seat downed tools, and outlets of the large Catalonian supermarket chain Bonpreu remained closed.

    'The wish to vote is unstoppable': Carles Puigdemont - Talk to Al Jazeera

    A heavy police presence is in place, particularly following Thursday night clashes between security forces and separatists protester which turned violent, with local media reporting that stones and firecrackers were hurled at officers.

    At least 11 people were arrested in connection with the riots, police said.

    Al Jazeera’s Sonia Gallego, reporting from Barcelona, said more protests were expected with the general election scheduled to take place on November 10 with the Catalan issue expected to dominate the debate in the lead-up.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies