HUNDREDS of thousands of Catalans took to the streets of Barcelona yesterday to demand the release of leaders being held in jail or facing extradition from abroad on “rebellion” charges following a failed bid to declare independence from Spain.

Protesters at the demonstration, organised by two pro-independence bodies, the National Catalan Assembly (ANC) and Omnium, carried a banner declaring: “For rights and liberties, for democracy and unity, we want them back home.”

The groups’ leaders – Jordi Sanchez of the ANC and Jordi Cuixart of Omnium – are among nine awaiting trial for their part in last year’s failed independence bid by the region.

Those facing extradition include Clara Ponsati, who had been working at the University of St Andrews as director of the School of Economics and Finance since January 2016, prior to being appointed as the Catalan education minister last July.

She returned to work at St Andrews earlier last month, having been in Belgium since fleeing Spain with Catalonia’s ex-leader, Carles Puigdemont, and three other former Cabinet members.

Ms Ponsati, who has vowed to fight the charge of violent rebellion raised against her by Madrid, says the charges against her are politically motivated.

She was formally arrested after turning herself in at an Edinburgh police station on March 28 and later released on bail.

Last week, at a preliminary hearing of her case at Edinburgh Sheriff Court, two weeks were set aside for a formal extradition hearing in the summer.

Her lawyer, Aamer Anwar, insisted the European arrest warrant issued for his client was a “grotesque distortion of the truth”.

He also claimed the “brutal” behaviour of Spanish police officers at polling stations last October during the controversial vote on independence had been “compared to the dark days of Francoism”.

Last night, Barcelona police said around 315,000 people participated in yesterday’s protest, which was supported by civil society groups, despite complaints from some members who do not want Catalonia to break away.

The crowd chanted “freedom for the political prisoners” as they marched on the Parallel Avenue, one of the city’s main thoroughfares, clad in yellow scarves, sweaters or jackets to show solidarity with those facing charges.

Before the march, secretary general of the Catalan branch of UGT union, Camil Ros, said: “There have been tensions [among union members] just like in the rest of the Catalan society. But it is not a separatist protest. It is time to build bridges and the Catalan problem cannot be solved through the courts but by dialogue and politics.”

The demonstration came 10 days after a German court dismissed an extradition request for Mr Puigdemont on the grounds of rebellion and released him on bail.

Spanish prosecutors last week handed over new information to Germany they hope will prove the use of violence, which would justify the rebellion charge and therefore their extradition request.

Mr Puigdemont is also accused of the misuse of public funds for staging an independence referendum in Catalonia last October despite it being ruled unconstitutional by the courts.

Spain’s justice minister, Rafael Catala, has called the use of yellow ribbons “insulting”, arguing there are no political prisoners in Spain, instead there are “politicians in prison”.