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Hundreds join protest camp over Catalan separatist crisis

Hundreds of young people, mostly students, set up a protest camp in Barcelona on Wednesday over the jailing of Catalan separatist leaders and to demand a self-determination referendum.

Set up in the city’s central University Square, the improvised camp was made up of around 50 tents decorated with separatist flags and banners, many bearing the slogan: “We are the October 14 generation”.

That was the date Spain’s top court handed down heavy prison sentences to nine Catalan leaders who were convicted of sedition for organising a banned referendum and a short-lived declaration of independence in 2017.

The ruling unleashed a wave of mass protest across this wealthy northeastern region, with tens of thousands joining daily demonstrations that by night deteriorated into violent clashes with police.

The worst unrest took place in the days following the verdict, with more than 600 people injured and over 200 arrests as a fringe elements of the formerly peaceful movement turned violent.

“The sentence was a tipping point which caused us to stand up to this constant violation of our rights,” 24-year-old protester Jaume Maeso told AFP.

The initiative began a day after pro-independence student organisations began an indefinite strike, prompting confrontations between those wanting to attend lectures and others manning a picket line.

The sentences were criticised by all seven of the region’s public universities, who issued a rare manifesto condemning the “repression and erosion of freedoms and rights” and demanding the “immediate release of those unjustly convicted”.

But the move was denounced as “strange” in a joint statement by 800 university professors from Catalonia and other regions, who demanded its immediate withdrawal.

Writing on Twitter, Pedro Duque, an astronaut who is also Spain’s minister of universities, threw his full support behind the lecturers’ position.

“The ideas held by some must not be allowed to become a muzzle for others. No to ideological control and yes to coexistence in universities,” he wrote.