BARCELONA - Hundreds of thousands of people marched in Barcelona on Sunday to protest the jailing of nine Catalan separatist leaders facing trial on "rebellion" charges. Many chanted "Freedom for the political prisoners" as they marched along the Parallel Avenue, one of the city's main streets, many waving the red-and-yellow Catalan flag. The protest comes six months after the first incarcerations of top Catalan separatist leaders for misuse of public funds, sedition and rebellion -- which carries a prison sentence of 30 years and implies that a "violent uprising" took place -- over their separatist push.

"Since they could not decapitate separatism, they are trying to do it through the courts," Roser Urgelles, a 59-year-old teacher, told AFP at the protest. "They need to demonstrate that there was violence to execute the sentences that they want, so they invent it," she said, adding: "But we will continue to protest peacefully."

Like thousands of others at the march, she wore a yellow ribbon to show solidarity with the jailed leaders, whom Catalan separatists consider to be "political prisoners". Spain's justice minister, Rafael Catala, has called the use of yellow ribbons "insulting", arguing that Spain has no political prisoners but "politicians in prison". The Guardia Urbana, a Catalan municipal police force, said 315,000 people turned out.