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Demonstrators Decry Long Prison Sentences For Catalan Separatists


In Spain's Catalonia region, thousands of protesters take to the streets for the seventh day in a row. They're asking for the release of nine Catalan separatist leaders who were sentenced for their role in the 2017 independence referendum deemed illegal by Madrid. Lucia Benavides reports from Barcelona.

LUCIA BENAVIDES, BYLINE: More than half a million protesters filled the streets of Barcelona on Friday, chanting, freedom for political prisoners. Many of them had walked more than 60 miles from various Catalan towns in what they called the marches for freedom. But as the evening wore on and protesters headed home, the younger crowd moved on to a second protest in the city center. One of them was 23-year-old Miqui Lopez, who was wearing a scarf to cover part of his face.

MIQUI LOPEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

BENAVIDES: "This is a response to the strict rules that Spain is imposing on Catalan leaders," he tells me.

That night, protesters - mostly students - burned trash bins and barricades to keep police from dispersing the crowd. But police officers advanced anyway with rubber bullets, tear gas and a water cannon. It was the fifth night in a row that peaceful daytime protests turned into violent clashes at night, injuring dozens of protesters and police officers.

ADA COLAU: (Speaking Spanish).

BENAVIDES: Barcelona's Mayor Ada Colau spoke the following morning, condemning the violence.

In Catalonia, anger towards Spain has been accumulating for years. The pro-independence movement peaked in 2017 when the region held an independence referendum that Madrid considered unconstitutional. The leaders who organized the vote were sentenced on Monday to terms of up to 13 years for sedition and misuse of public funds.

MALLOL CODONY: (Speaking Spanish).

BENAVIDES: Nineteen-year-old Mallol Codony calls the long prison sentences unacceptable and an attempt to criminalize the independence movement.

For NPR News, I'm Lucia Benavides in Barcelona. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.