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Wednesday November 22nd, 2017 2:34AM

The Latest: Pro-secession Catalans hold evening protests

By The Associated Press
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MADRID (AP) — The Latest on the Spain-Catalonia political crisis (all times local):

6 p.m.

A second round of street demonstrations in a day in Catalonia is protesting the jailing of members of the ousted Catalan government and secessionist activists.

After protests at noon, thousands of people have gathered again in Barcelona and other Catalan cities at 6 p.m. (1700 GMT; 12 p.m. EST).

They are demanding the release of the 10 Catalans detained by Spanish courts in a rebellion and sedition probe. Their alleged offenses occurred in the days before and after Catalonia's parliament ignored Spanish court rulings and declared independence Oct. 27.

Spanish authorities subsequently removed the Catalan government, dissolved the parliament and called a new regional election for next month.

Catalan pro-independence groups are staging strikes and protests in a bid to keep up the pressure on the Madrid-based Spanish government. Students also blocked some high-speed train lines at Barcelona's main station.

In a central square in Barcelona protesters chanted, "Free the political prisoners."

___

2:40 p.m.

Spain's Constitutional Court has ruled illegal the ousted Catalan parliament's recent vote to declare the region independent from Spain.

The ruling Wednesday came as pro-independence protesters blocked roads and stopped commuter trains in the northeastern region as part of a strike to protest the jailing of ousted Catalan government officials and secessionist activists before and after the Oct. 27 declaration.

The court had initially suspended implementation of the secession declaration last month while it studied its legality following a challenge by the Spanish government.

The secession vote, which was boycotted by most opposition lawmakers and held despite previous court rulings, passed by 70 votes to 10 in the 135-seat Catalan parliament.

In response, Spain fired the Catalan government, dissolved the parliament and called a new regional election for next month.

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1:20 p.m.

Several thousand pro-independence protesters have packed a central square in Barcelona as part of a general strike in Catalonia to protest the jailing of members of the ousted Catalan government and secessionist activists.

The protest at noon Wednesday held outside the regional government's headquarters was called by two grassroots secessionist groups, the Catalan National Assembly and Omnium Cultural.

People waved Catalan independence flags and chanted "Freedom," for the 10 detained by Spanish courts in a rebellion and sedition probe in the days before and after Catalonia's parliament ignored Spanish court rulings and declared independence Oct. 27.

Catalan National Assembly representative Agusti Alcoberro told the crowd the arrests were "an attack on democracy and a humiliation" of Catalan people.

Other noon protests were to be held in other Catalan towns and cities and again at 6 p.m. (1700 GMT; 12 p.m. EST).

Spanish authorities removed the Catalan government, dissolved the parliament and called a new regional election for next month following the secession declaration.

___

11:05 a.m.

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel is refusing to comment on the political actions of the ousted Catalan leader in Belgium, saying that Carles Puigdemont's case must be handled by justice authorities alone.

Michel told Belgian lawmakers Wednesday that "as prime minister I consider that I don't have to make any pronouncements about justice, whether it be in Belgium or between European countries."

Michel was lambasted by the lawmakers for his handling of the Catalan crisis and its fallout in Belgium, where Puigdemont and four associates are fighting extradition to Spain.

While some Belgian government officials have criticized Spain's handling of Puigdemont's independence drive, Michel said that the Spanish government remains his partner.

He said: "We have an interlocutor; it is the government in Madrid. It is Spain."

___

11 a.m.

The Catalan Transit Service says that more than 60 sections of roads and highways have experienced disruptions due to striking protesters on Wednesday morning.

Many of the blockades are on the accesses to big Catalan cities, including the regional capital, Barcelona, and some of the major highways, the Twitter channel of the service has posted.

The national railway operator, Renfe, says that trains stopped working on dozens of local lines because protesters were blocking tracks. Several national high-speed lines have also been affected, Renfe says, with trains delayed or diverted. In the northern town of Girona, protesters bypassed police controls to enter the main railway station.

Separatist workers' unions have called the strike amid unprecedented controls in the region by Spanish central authorities. Political parties and civil society groups are calling for workers to gather midday in the main Catalan cities and again in the evening at the gates of town halls across the region to protest the jailing of ousted secessionist authorities.

___

10:10 a.m.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy says next month's elections in Catalonia should open "a new political era" in the northeastern region with the return to normality and respect for the country's laws.

The conservative leader has defended his government's imposed controls in the northeastern region in the wake of an independence bid by separatist politicians.

Rajoy sacked the separatist Catalan authorities, who are facing possible rebellion charges, dissolved the regional government and has called a snap regional election for Dec. 21.

"I hope that elections open a new political era of coexistence, in which the rules are respected and the Spanish economy recovers," Rajoy said in parliament Wednesday when asked by opposition lawmakers about the extraordinary controls that have led to central authorities to rule directly Catalonia.

___

9:40 a.m.

Protesters have blocked roads and stopped commuter trains as Catalonia faces a general strike in the wake of unprecedented controls in the region by Spanish central authorities to crush an independence bid.

Intersindical CSC, a platform that groups pro-independence workers' unions, had called the strike for Wednesday to push for labor rights. But the call comes at a sensitive political moment, and separatist parties and civil society groups asked workers to join the stoppage to protest the jailing of activists and ousted Catalan government officials.

Spanish authorities took direct control of Catalonia after regional lawmakers passed an independence declaration on Oct. 27. An early election has been called for next month to replace the sacked regional government.

Among dozens of roads blocked, protesters cut the traffic on the AP7 motorway north of Girona, one of the main arteries connecting France and Spain.

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