Catalonia protests shut down Sagrada Familia church in Barcelona

Catalonia protests shut down Sagrada Familia church in Barcelona

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Image caption

Sagrada Familia is one of Barcelona’s most famous landmarks

Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia church – one of the city’s main tourist attractions – has shut down because of protesters blocking its entrance.

Protests, which are now entering their fifth day, and a general strike have brought the Spanish city to a halt.

Trains are stopped and roads blocked by protesters angered by jail sentences imposed on Catalan separatist leaders.

The Barcelona and Real Madrid football teams have postponed a match they were due to play on 26 October.

The famous rivals had been set to meet in El Clásico, a hugely popular clash held at Barcelona’s Camp Nou stadium.

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On its official Twitter account, the church says a group of protesters was standing at the entrance and access to the premise could not be guaranteed.

Skip Twitter post by @sagradafamilia

? [EN] Due to a group of protesters currently stationed in front of the Basilica, blocking the entrance, we can’t ensure visitors will have access to the grounds.
We hope the situation will return to normal as quickly as possible. (1/3)

— La Sagrada Família (@sagradafamilia) October 18, 2019


End of Twitter post by @sagradafamilia

A big demonstration is under way outside the city’s university, with hundreds of thousands of other protesters from across the Catalonia region due to converge on Barcelona later in the day.

Protesters have blocked at least 20 major roads, including the main cross-border motorway with France, by sitting down on the carriageways.

At least 96 people have been hurt as the protests spread across Spain’s north-eastern region.

On Wednesday, barricades were set alight and petrol bombs thrown as riots gripped the centre of Barcelona.

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Media captionCatalan protests: Watch dramatic street battles in Barcelona on Wednesday

Why are people protesting?

The protests began after nine pro-independence leaders were jailed for between nine and 13 years by Spain’s Supreme Court earlier this week.

The separatists were convicted of sedition over their role in an independence referendum in 2017 which was outlawed by the Spanish courts.

Another three were found guilty of disobedience and fined but not jailed. All 12 defendants denied the charges.

Former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont is still wanted by the Spanish authorities for his role in the referendum.

He currently resides in Belgium. If he returns to Spain, he will be arrested.

What is behind the Catalonia unrest?

Catalan nationalists have long complained that their region, which has a distinct history dating back almost 1,000 years, sends too much money to poorer parts of Spain via taxes which are controlled by Madrid.

The wealthy region is home to about 7.5 million people, with their own language, parliament, flag and anthem.

In September, a march in Barcelona in support of Catalonia’s independence from Spain drew crowds of about 600,000 people – one of the lowest turnouts in the eight-year history of the annual rally.