Spain’s highest court on Monday sentenced nine Catalan separatist leaders to long prison sentences for their involvement in the 2017 independence movement.
Thousands of people in Barcelona are demonstrating against the judges and have partially blocked El Prat Airport – where at least 110 flights have been canceled.
Swedish Erik Vackholt, 21, ended up in the middle of the chaos and filmed everything.
Riot police came running and hit people with their batons. They mistook me for a riot maker and hit me in the back, he says.
The nine separatist leaders were sentenced to between nine and 13 years in prison for their participation in the illegal independence vote in Spain in 2017. Another three activists were also sentenced to fines, according to the BBC.
At the same time, an arrest warrant was issued for former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, who lives in Belgium.
Big demonstrations in Barcelona
The decision in the Supreme Court caused many Catalans to take to the streets to protest. In Barcelona, thousands of people protest.
Erik Vackholt does an internship in Barcelona and went out on one of the biggest streets, Via Laietana, in the city to watch the demonstrations. He was met by chaos – and filmed everything.
- It was packed with people along a two kilometer stretch. They break into stores and people are downed with rubber bullets. I stood there watching and all of a sudden the whole crowd turned around and started running. Then came riot police with batons running and started hitting people, says Erik Vackholt.
Erik Vackoholt is in Barcelona and talks about how people break into shops and get shot down with rubber bullets. Photo: Reader image
“I stood there watching and all of a sudden the whole crowd turns around and starts running,” says Erik Vackholt. Photo: Reader image
He filmed the incident and when the police saw it, one of them came running towards him.
- I started running from there and then I got a baton hit in the back, he says.
Activists block entrances at the airport
At the El Prat airport, activists have blocked the entrances, creating havoc for staff and passengers.
El Pais reports that the roads to the airport have been blocked and that tourists are being prevented by protesters from leaving the subway and entering the departure halls.
Swedish Annelie Sjöberg was on her way back to Stockholm after a weekend in Barcelona when she ended up in the middle of the chaos at the airport.
- There are an incredible number of protesters outside the terminal building and full of police officers. But they are still nice. They started building barricades between the parking garage and the terminal itself, says Annelie Sjöberg.
After taking almost three hours to get to the airport by taxi and train, a trip that usually takes 30 minutes, she and her boyfriend missed the flight and were forced to buy new tickets.
- Now we sit on the floor and wait with everyone else, it is a lot of people who have missed flight and are stuck. It will be good to sleep here until the flight goes tomorrow.
The buses between the airport terminals are also affected by the blockade, says Annelie Sjöberg, who had to walk the distance for probably close to an hour.
At least 110 flights have been canceled on Monday and a further 20 are canceled on Tuesday, airport operator Aena writes on Twitter.
Spanish police clashed with protesters at the airport as they tried to open it again, according to the AP.
At least 78 people have been lightly injured, most at the airport, according to El Pais.
Streets were blocked by Catalan protesters
Several streets in central Barcelona and roads around Catalonia were also blocked by protesters, according to Reuters.
“We must mobilize and stand up for the convicted in a way that will have an impact, by closing airports and stations, but always avoiding violence,” a demonstrator told AFP news agency.
Police tried to disperse protesters outside the El Prat airport in Barcelona. Photo: EMILIO MORENATTI / AP TT NEWS AGENCY
In October 2017, the Catalan Parliament announced a referendum on independence for the Spanish region. Spain never approved the vote and criminal investigations started against several separatist leaders and activists.
During the week leading up to the convictions, several Catalan activist groups have stepped up their activities. The newly formed platform Tsunami Democràtic (Democratic Tsunami) has called for demonstrations and this weekend, hundreds of people protested in Barcelona.