Catalan separatists call for amnesty, train lines get vandalized

Catalan separatists used an annual festival in their region on Friday to urge the Spanish government to agree to a referendum on independence and an amnesty for jailed and self-exiled leaders.
Protesters vandalized Catalonia's rail network ahead of a series of pro-independence rallies planned across the wealthy northeastern region later in the day, forcing multiple train cancellations before traffic was resumed.
In Catalonia, Sept. 11 marks "La Diada," the anniversary of the fall of Barcelona to Spanish forces in 1714, and has been marked in recent years by major separatist rallies.
"We need a political response to what is a political conflict," Catalan government spokeswoman Meritxell Budo told reporters, calling for an amnesty for nine leaders jailed for their role in a failed 2017 independence bid and for others who fled Spain then.
The government of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has ruled out any amnesty or referendum but has backed talks with Barcelona.
"We will keep working to achieve reconciliation in Catalonia from a dialog within the constitution," Sanchez said in a Tweet on Friday.
Opinion polls show people in Catalonia are split on the issue of independence. The latest survey shows more respondents in favor of their region remaining part of Spain.
Early on Friday protesters set fires in seven or eight places along Catalonia's rail network, forcing widespread cancellations, a rail operator spokesman said.
A conventional train line around Girona and the high-speed line between Barcelona and Figueres, which connects to France's TGV network, were interrupted for around four hours, rail operator ADIF tweeted.
Despite appeals from health officials to avoid gatherings due to the COVID-19 pandemic, grassroots organizer Assemblea Nacional Catalana said last week it wanted to hold Europe's largest coronavirus-adapted protest.
It has planned for later on Friday over 100 gatherings in 82 locations around Catalonia, in which people would need to keep a distance, wear a mask and have previously registered to attend.
The region's public health secretary and the head of a doctors' association discouraged such gatherings.
Spain has recorded 554,143 cases since the onset of the pandemic, more than any other western European nation. It reported 13 deaths on Thursday, taking the overall toll to 29,699.
While Catalonia's separatism drive has dominated Spanish politics for years, it has largely taken a back seat over the past months, both because of the coronavirus crisis and divisions among separatists.