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37 injured, 100+ flights cancelled as police clash with Catalan pro-independence protesters at Barcelona airport (VIDEOS)

37 injured, 100+ flights cancelled as police clash with Catalan pro-independence protesters at Barcelona airport (VIDEOS)
Barcelona’s El Prat airport has seen some brutal fighting as police in riot gear faced off with huge crowds of Catalans, angered by the lengthy prison sentences handed to the organizers of the 2017 independence referendum.

The Spanish Supreme Court’s decision on Monday to sentence the Catalan officials behind the referendum to between nine and 13 years has sparked a storm of protests in the capital of the wealthy autonomous Spanish province. The court also issued a European arrest warrant for former regional president Carles Puigdemont. 

Crowds of people poured into the streets of Barcelona within mere minutes of the ruling. Soon, Democratic Tsunami, a local group in favor of a more active form of civil disobedience, called on tens of thousands of its members to march on the city airport, located 15 kilometers away from the center of Barcelona.

The airport then saw fierce fighting between the crowds of angry protesters who had heeded the call, and the riot police deployed to the scene. Videos from the airport showed officers in full riot gear brutally dispersing the crowds by beating people with batons and pushing them to the ground.

Police were seen chasing the crowds at the entrance to the airport as well as fighting the protesters in its hallways.

At least 37 protesters were injured in clashes at the airport, according to local health authorities. Meanwhile regional police said two people were arrested for attacking officers.

Yet, about 8,000 demonstrators managed to get inside, effectively stalling operations at the airport. Dozens of flights have been canceled, leading to air traffic collapse and leaving hundreds of passengers stranded. Some of the passengers also barely escaped the clashes between police and the angry crowds.

Croatian football star Ivan Rakitic, who currently plays for FC Barcelona, was among those caught up in the ordeal; he was seen walking along the highway near the embattled airport.

The clashes at the airport follow mass protests in the Catalan capital itself, which saw some Barcelona streets blocked by demonstrators. Scuffles have also been reported in several big Catalan municipalities, such as Girona and Lleida.

Tensions between the Catalans and the Spanish central government have hardly subsided over the two years since the ill-fated independence vote, which Madrid declared illegal and invalid, as about a half of the seven-million-strong provincial population still support independence.

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The court ruling that sentenced nine out of 12 separatist leaders to lengthy prison terms is likely to reignite those simmering tensions that have already been manifested in large-scale demonstrations and clashes between the protesters and police in the wake of the contentious vote.

The public anger over the sentences is shared by the province’s leadership. Catalonia’s President Quim Torra condemned it as “an act of vengeance, not an act of justice.” Puigdemont, the former regional president and the face of the separatist movement, who remains in exile in Belgium, denounced the 100 years of total prison time for his former associates as an “atrocity.”

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