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Thousands converge on Barcelona for fifth day of Catalan protests

Thousands converge on Barcelona   for fifth day of Catalan protests

BARCELONA: Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators waving pro-independence flags and chanting "freedom for political prisoners" joined marches across Catalonia on Friday, the fifth day of protests against the jailing of nine separatist leaders over a failed bid to break away from Spain in 2017.

The marchers, some of whom began their trek on Wednesday from municipalities across the northeastern Spanish region, were set to reach the regional capital Barcelona later in the day.

Tensions between Madrid and Catalonia have been rising since Monday, when Spain's Supreme Court sentenced nine politicians and activists to up to 13 years in jail.

The sentences set off the worst sustained street violence Spain has seen in decades, with clashes between protesters and police, posing a major challenge both for the Spanish government and pro-independence regional authorities.

The Spanish soccer federation (RFEF) said in a statement on that Barcelona's Oct. 26 home match against Real Madrid, one of the biggest rivalries in the sport, had been postponed due to security concerns.

Friday's marchers, ranging from families pushing prams to cyclists wheeling their bicycles, took over a highway lane and other major roads as they walked peacefully towards the Catalan capital, many sporting yellow ribbons - a sign of protest against the jailing of Catalan independence leaders.

Major roads were blocked off across Catalonia and several main streets in Barcelona were closed to traffic in anticipation of the marches, as well as picket lines that had begun springing up, while regional trains and the city's metro were running on a reduced timetable after pro-independence unions called a strike.

Barcelona's El Prat airport, forced to cancel around 150 flights this week after it was barricaded by thousands of people, was running normally for the most part, according to Spain's ministry of public works.

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