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Demonstrators flood Barcelona in support of jailed separatist leaders

Pro-independence supporters hold a Catalan separatist flag, known as "Estelada", during a demonstration in Barcelona, Spain, April 15, 2018. REUTERS/Albert Gea


BARCELONA (Reuters) - Hundreds of thousands of Catalan independence supporters flooded the streets of Barcelona on Sunday calling for the release of jailed separatist leaders after a supreme court ruling frustrated their latest attempt to elect a regional leader. Around 350,000 demonstrators clogged several main city arteries waving flags and wearing yellow in support of separatist leaders jailed for their role in the wealthy region's banned drive to split from Spain last year.

Among the politicians facing charges of rebellion is Jordi Sanchez, the latest candidate put forward by Catalan lawmakers to become leader of the region.

Catalonia's struggle to find a leader began after it declared independence in October. Spanish courts ruled the declaration was illegal, took direct control of the region and called for new elections.

Supreme court judge Pablo Llarena refused last week to release him from jail and he faces up to 25 years on charges of rebellion, marking the latest of four unsuccessful attempts to elect a new leader. If a new leader is not named before the end of May, Catalonia will be forced to call another election.

In his first interview since a German court ruled that he would not be extradited to Spain to face charges of rebellion, former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont said that the region should avoid returning to the polls.

"It's our obligation to look for a way to avoid further elections," Puigdemont said in an interview with Catalan television TV3 recorded in Berlin and broadcast late on Sunday. "But there is not a zero risk of this happening because there is another party involved, and that's the Spanish government."

(Reporting by Sam Edwards; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Sandra Maler)

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