Nineteen arrested as police clear Catalan protesters from French border

The demonstrations staged by pro-independence supporters entered their second day on Tuesday, with around 2,000 people blocking a major artery for freight traffic between both countries

French officers remove protesters from the border area between Le Perthus and La Jonquera (Spanish captions).Video: ALBERT GARCIA / REBECA CARANCO

Nineteen people were arrested on Tuesday morning – 18 by the French authorities and one by the Catalan regional police, the Mossos d’Esquadra – as they were participating in a roadblock of the AP-7 highway near La Jonquera, a busy border crossing between Spain and France.

Riot police on both sides advanced toward the border line and surrounded around 300 demonstrators taking part in a protest called by Democratic Tsunami, an apparently leaderless movement that advocates direct action in support of Catalan independence.

The two spots that have been blocked off by pro-independence protesters.
The two spots that have been blocked off by pro-independence protesters.SCT

The roadblock was cleared at around 11am, three hours after the police began taking action against the protesters, who numbered around 2,000 in total. At 8am French officers from the National Police and National Gendarmerie began to use pepper spray and batons to forcibly remove demonstrators from their section of the highway, known as the A9, near Le Perthus. By then the highway had been blocked for 24 hours. The Spanish Civil Guard and the Mossos moved in from their side at around 10.30am.

On Monday morning, more than 2,000 people cut off the busy highway crossing, which is a major route for freight trucks. The roadblock created long delays on alternative roads such as the N-II Spanish national motorway, where traffic was at a standstill for 10 kilometers.

“The Civil Guard removes a small group of three protestors who were sitting on the front line,” tweets EL PAÍS reporter Rebeca Carranco.

By Tuesday afternoon the protest had moved five kilometers south to the spot where the AP-7 and N-II converge. The National Police and the Mossos d’Esquadra were trying to clear the area at around 4pm.

The Spanish Confederation of Freight Transportation CETM had warned that the roadblock could have a daily economic impact of €15 million and affect 20,000 trucks taking goods across the border. Democratic Tsunami has announced three days of street action.

The CETM warns about the effects of one day of road blocks at La Jonquera.
The CETM warns about the effects of one day of road blocks at La Jonquera.CETM

The protesters had set up a large platform on the side of the highway leading into Spain, and made a barricade with construction material in the opposite direction into France.

According to Spanish government sources, Spain’s caretaker Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marklaska and his French counterpart Christophe Castaner were “in constant communication” about the situation. The French riot police had orders to clear the border but decided not to take action until Tuesday morning.

More protests coming

French riot police act against demonstrators at La Jonquera.
French riot police act against demonstrators at La Jonquera.Reuters

Democratic Tsunami has called this latest protest their “most ambitious action,” and promised more demonstrations if a political solution is not found for the crisis in Catalonia. The group is calling for the “right to self-determination, freedom for the prisoners, exiles and reprisal victims,” in reference to the Catalan separatists in jail or in self-imposed exile for their role in the 2017 breakaway bid, “and the free pursuit of basic rights.”

Democratic Tsunami explained in a statement that the aim of the roadblock is to make the international community “understand” that the only solution to the crisis in Catalonia is to “sit down and talk.” Failing to do so will only further isolate the breakaway region, they maintain. According to the statement, the roadblock near the French border is meant to symbolize this isolation.

Ask for at least one of these days off from work. You have to be available to go to different parts of the region, and if you can, spend the night outside

Democratic Tsunami instructions

In a statement issued on Friday, the group said that the protest will last three days. “Ask for at least one of these days off from work. You have to be available to go to different parts of the region, and if you can, spend the night outside,” the group told supporters, adding that they would need to bring warm clothes, cellphone batteries, food, sleeping bags and tents, and to display a non-violent attitude.

Democratic Tsunami was activated on September 2 with the public support of the Catalan regional premier Quim Torra, his deputy premier Pere Aragonès, and the speaker of the regional parliament, Roger Torrent. Its leaders are currently unknown, but police believe that it was conceived during a meeting in Switzerland between the former Catalan premier Carles Puigdemont, Torra, representatives of Catalan nationalist parties, and pro-independence civic associations ANC and Òmnium Cultural.

The protest comes just after Spaniards returned to the polls on Sunday for the fourth general election in as many years. The far-right party Vox, which campaigned heavily against the Catalan independence movement, made the biggest gains of the night, winning 52 seats in Spain’s lower house, the Congress of Deputies.

English version by Melissa Kitson and Susana Urra.

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