By Alyssa McMurtry
OVIEDO, Spain (AA) - A general strike called by pro-independence unions began on Friday morning, causing significant disturbances throughout Catalonia, which coincided with reactivation of a European arrest warrant for the ex-president.
According to local news reports, 14 highways and hundreds of businesses have been shut down by protests, while metro and rail lines are running with reduced service.
Major tourist attractions are also affected as protestors block the entrance to the Sagrada Familia church and over 80% of the shops at Barcelona’s central market have closed for the strike.
Since Monday, hundreds of thousands of Catalan protestors have taken to the streets to express their outrage at the Supreme Court sentencing of pro-independence leaders to nine to 13 years of prison each.
While the days have been marked by massive, but generally peaceful protests, tensions have escalated for the last four nights.
On Thursday night, clashes broke out between Spanish far-right "ultras," groups of anti-fascists and police.
Since Monday, over 100 people have been arrested and authorities estimate that the physical damage to Barcelona alone will cost €1.5 million ($1.6 million).
Carles Puigdemont, the ex-leader of Catalonia who fled to Belgium in 2017 before being captured in Spain, voluntarily turned himself over to Belgian authorities on Friday after a European arrest warrant was reactivated. He was subsequently released by the judge.
When Puigdemont was the president of Catalonia in 2017 he spearheaded an illegal independence referendum and later declared independence from Spain. It is for these activities that the other nine leaders, who did not flee, were sentenced to a near combined total of 100 years in prison.
Spanish authorities are bracing themselves for Friday night when protests are expected to reach their peak so far this week.