By Alyssa McMurtry
After calls for a general strike and mass protests by Catalan labor unions, thousands of protestors took to the streets of the region on Wednesday.
Transport was severely disrupted in protest at what demonstrators called Spain’s holding of “political prisoners” -- former members of the Catalan government who declared independence from Madrid.
The removed Catalan administration, including those behind bars and those who are now confronted with possible extradition from Brussels, are facing charges related to a unilateral declaration of independence passed in Catalonia's parliament on Oct. 27.
That piece of legislation, the last passed by the ousted pro-separatist government, was officially annulled by Spain's Supreme Court on Wednesday afternoon.
Protestors jammed more than 50 roads, universities were closed and a high-speed rail line connecting Spain and France was blocked by around 500 protestors who occupied the tracks.
Thousands of people also joined protests in the center of Barcelona, the region’s capital.
Protestors are calling for the Spanish government to release eight former members of the regional government, including the vice-president, and the two leaders of pro-independence cultural associations, who are all being held on remand in Madrid.
The term “political prisoner” has been sharply criticized by Spain’s central government and High Court, which argue those behind bars are there because they face serious charges, including sedition and rebellion, for their actions and are also flight risks.
However, the Spanish government was not overly concerned about the effects of the general strike.
“The strike has been minimal and residual except in education, where the shutdown reached 31.5 percent,” said Juan Antonio Puigserver, who has been appointed by Madrid to head Catalonia’s interior ministry, in a news conference.
The general strike was called by a relatively small independence union and backed by pro-independence associations, but the region’s main unions called for two massive demonstrations on Wednesday.
This is the second time since the controversial Oct. 1 referendum on independence that strike action has been carried out in Catalonia in protest at Spain’s actions.
Despite Madrid taking on direct rule of the region weeks ago, the Catalan crisis is far from resolved.
Snap regional elections will take place on Dec. 21, where separatist and unionist parties will be vying to take control of the conflicted region.