POLICE used pepper spray and riot batons to disperse demonstrators who had blocked a major motorway in protest at the 100-year sentences imposed last month on nine Catalan independence leaders.

The blockade of the AP7 motorway at La Jonquera, near Girona, was organised by the group Democratic Tsunami, which last month sent thousands of people to block access to Barcelona airport in a similar protest.

Initially, around 2000 people occupied the road, which links France and Spain, and yesterday morning Catalan police, the Mossos d’Esquadra and Spanish Civil Guard officers began removing them from the northbound lanes.

French police used pepper spray against the demonstrators, some of whom ran away. Spanish government sources said Spain’s caretaker interior minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska and his French counterpart, Christophe Castaner were “in constant communication” about the situation.

French riot police had orders to clear the border but did not take action until yesterday morning.

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Catalonia’s roads department confirmed that the motorway was closed in both directions at La Jonquera. Tsunami Democràtic said the protest was their “most ambitious action” and promised more demonstrations should a political solution not be 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 jailed Catalan leaders and those in exile for their role in the independence bid] and the free pursuit of basic rights”.

In a statement on Friday, the group said the protest would last for three days, telling supporters: “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.”

In a statement through the encrypted messaging service Telegram, the group said: “With today’s action, the aim is to illustrate that the political problem between Catalonia and Spain is and will be a European problem.

“The repression applied to the Catalan citizens is unacceptable because it cannot become the model action to be applied against protests within the EU.

“The repression of the Spanish state and the claims for dialogue

from parts of the independence movement have made headlines again in the international press such as the New York Times, Der Spiegel or Le Monde. The starting point for the claims is simple: Spain, sit and talk.

It added: “This mobilisation is a cry to the international community so that it makes the Spanish state understand that the only possible path is to sit down and talk.”

The protesters had set up a large platform at the side of the road leading into Spain and made a barricade in the opposite direction into France.

The motorway was cut off for nearly 24 hours before French officers from the National Police and National Gendarmerie began to remove the protesters early yesterday morning.

Following yesterday’s police action, Democratic Tsunami called for protesters to gather at a separate Spanish border point further to the west, at Behobia, near the Basque city of San Sebastian.