Catalonia Protesters Disrupt Transport

Catalonia Protesters Disrupt Transport

MADRID (AP) -- Pro-independence protesters blocked roads and stopped commuter trains Wednesday in Spain's northeastern region of Catalonia as part of a general strike to protest the jailing of ousted Catalan government officials and secessionist activists.

Many of the blockades were on roads leading to major Catalan cities, including the regional capital Barcelona, and major highways, the Catalan Transit Service said. Disruptions affected more than 60 sections of road and highway throughout the morning, it said.

National railway operator Renfe said services were halted on dozens of local lines as protesters blocked railway lines. Several national high-speed lines were also affected. In northern Girona, several protesters pushed past police controls to enter the city's main railway station.

The strike was not backed by Spain's two main unions and was not reported to be having any major effect on industry or in the region's prized tourism sector.

Spanish authorities took the unprecedented step of seizing control of Catalonia, one of Spain's 17 autonomous regions, after a majority of regional lawmakers there ignored Constitutional Court orders and passed an independence declaration on Oct. 27.

Spain sacked the regional government, dissolved the parliament and called a fresh regional election for next month.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said Wednesday the elections should open "a new political era" in the region with the return to normality and respect for Spain's laws.

Former Catalan regional president Carles Puigdemont and four of his sacked ministers have fled to Belgium, where they are fighting Spanish arrest and extradition orders.

Eight of Puigdemont's ex-ministers and two activists were sent to jail as a Spanish court studies possible charges of rebellion and sedition against them.

Intersindical CSC, a platform of pro-independence workers' unions, had called the strike for labor issues but separatist parties and civil society groups asked workers to join the stoppage to protest Spain's intervention.

Catalonia, with 7.5 million people, represents a fifth of Spain's gross domestic product and polls show its people roughly evenly divided over independence. Puigdemont claimed a banned Oct. 1 secession referendum gave it a mandate to declare independence.