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Pro-independence protesters in Catalonia block roads on first referendum anniversary

Pro-independence protesters have blocked major roads and railway lines across Spain's Catalonia during the first anniversary of the region’s banned independence referendum.

According to local media, hundreds of protesters, using tires to form barricades, occupied the AP-7 highway, the main road along eastern Catalonia on Monday, as well as the central streets in the cities of Lleida and Barcelona, the regional capital.

In Girona, north of Barcelona, a large number of activists also held a mass sit-in and obstructed the high-speed railway tracks, while regional police tried to stop more protesters from entering the area of the station.

Catalan protesters block the tracks of high-speed train as they mark the first anniversary of Catalonia's banned independence referendum in Girona, Spain, October 1, 2018. (Photo by Reuters)

Protesters took away the Spanish flag from Catalonia's regional government building in Girona and replaced it with red, yellow and blue separatist flags.

The protests had been organized via online messaging apps by the Committees for the Defense of the Republic (CDRs) - local activist groups that emerged after the ill-fated independence vote on October 1, 2017 and now demand a clean break with the Spanish state.

"A year ago we voted for independence ... Let's act," the CDRs had announced in a tweet.

In a speech at a ceremony in Sant Julia de Ramis in northern Catalonia, the region's new leader Quim Torra praised the activists’ actions, saying they were "doing well in putting on the pressure."

On a stage flanked with a large black and white banner that read "No forgetting, no forgiving," Torra said, "Everything began on October 1 and everything goes back to October 1.”

President of Catalonia's regional government Quim Torra gives a speech during a ceremony to commemorate the anniversary of a banned referendum on secession that was marred by police violence, in Sant Julia de Ramis, near Girona, on October 1, 2018. (Photo by AFP)

The Catalan government, then led by Carles Puigdemont, pushed ahead with a referendum on independence for the region last year despite it having been regarded as “illegal” by the Spanish courts.

The controversial vote was marred by a violent police crackdown on polling stations.

Official reports said 2.3 million people cast their ballots out of 5.5 million eligible voters in the independence referendum, with about 90 percent of voters supporting Catalonia's secession from Spain.

After the Catalan government declared unilateral independence on October 27, Madrid swiftly sacked the Catalan government, prompting several key figures to flee abroad, including Puigdemont. Others were jailed.

In total, 13 separatist leaders have been charged with rebellion, nine of whom are in preventative custody in Spain awaiting trial, while four others are in self-exile in Belgium, Scotland and Switzerland.

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