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Fresh protests in Catalonia after third night of violence

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After a fresh night of violence that rocked Barcelona, Catalan separatists Thursday pressed on with their protests against the sentencing of nine of their leaders by blocking roads and railways across the Spanish region.

University students began a strike, while several roads and highways were closed across Catalonia because of mass marches which departed on Wednesday from five Catalan towns heading for Barcelona.

The marchers plan to converge in Barcelona on Friday when unions have called a general strike in the region, and a massive protest is planned in the evening.

State rail company Adif said a train linking Barcelona to Lerida suffered a delay of half an hour blamed on "sabotage", while commuter rail service in the Catalan capital was temporarily stopped on three routes early Thursday because demonstrators had gathered on the tracks.

Cleaning crews on Thursday morning cleared the streets of central Barcelona of debris leftover from overnight clashes between protesters and riot police which left 58 people injured, including a 17-year-old who was hit by a police van, according to emergency services.

The demonstrators, many of them masked, torched cars and garbage bins and hurled rocks and Molotov cocktails at police.

Another 38 people were injured in protests in other Catalan cities, including Lerida and Girona, a separatist stronghold.

'Stop right now'
The violence erupted on Monday just hours after Spain's Supreme Court handed down long prison sentences to nine Catalan leaders for their role in the failed independence bid in 2017.

The violent protests marked a break with the mainly peaceful and festive pro-independence rallies held in Catalonia since the separatist movement gained momentum nearly a decade ago.

While Catalan president Quim Torra has sanctioned and even encouraged civil disobedience, his government is also responsible for the regional police who are charged with controlling demonstrations, putting him in an uncomfortable position.

Torra had not commented on the unrest for days, but overnight he called for an immediate halt to the violent clashes.

"This has to stop right now," he said.

"There is no reason or justification for burning cars, nor any other vandalism. Protest should be peaceful."

Looming election
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's Socialist government, which sent police reinforcements to Catalonia ahead of the court ruling, has so far shown little appetite for taking matters into its own hands despite pressure from the conservative opposition to do so.

After meeting with opposition leaders on Wednesday, Sanchez said the government would respond "proportionally" and was "considering all scenarios".

Sanchez met in Madrid on Thursday with a committee which is monitoring the crisis before he is set to fly to Brussels to attend a European Union summit.

Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska repeated that no measure was off-limits but he added that the government could "reasonably predict that this (violence) will not continue, that security and peace will be immediately reestablished in Barcelona and other Catalan cities."

The court ruling and sentences have thrust the Catalan dispute to the heart of the political debate ahead of Spain's November 10 general election, its fourth in as many years.

The Socialists will once again emerge as the party with the most votes but again fall short of a majority, while the main opposition conservative Popular Party (PP), which advocates a hard line against Catalan separatists, will make significant gains, according to the first opinion poll taken since the verdicts were announced.

The poll published in the daily El Mundo on Thursday predicted that Sanchez's Socialists will capture 122 seats in the 350-seat parliament, down from 123 seats in the last election in April, while it said the PP will win 98 seats, up from 66.


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