CATALONIA’s four jailed independence leaders have abandoned their hunger strike after almost three weeks following a call from five former presidents and speakers of the Catalan Parliament and its current president.

Jordi Sànchez, Jordi Turull, Joaquim Forn and Josep Rull had refused food in protest at what they saw as the obstruction of their cases by Spain’s Constitutional Court in denying them access to the European courts.

In a statement, they said their action was directed at the magistrates of the Constitutional Court who had blocked their appeals “with the sole purpose of delaying access to the European Court of Human Rights”.

They said: “We know that our action has reached the hearts of many people.

“We are aware that the hunger strike has been able to cause deep emotion in thousands of women and men of goodwill, independentists and non-independentists, citizens of Catalonia, but also from all over Spain and Europe. People, all of them, committed to freedom, justice and democracy.”

READ MORE: Catalan political prisoners end three-week hunger striker

The four were on Thursday transferred to a prison medical unit where they were being re-introduced to soft solid foods and liquids under medical supervision.

It is thought they have lost up to 11% of their body weight.

Sànchez and Turull first refused food 20 days ago and were joined three days later by Forn and Rull.

Five days ago Turull was moved to the infirmary at Lledoners prison, after his health deteriorated.

Since they started their action, the Constitutional Court has begun considering some of the 30 or so cases the jailed leaders have said they had deliberately delayed.

The National:

Campaigners have demanded the release of Jordi Turull, whose health has deteriorated

They said the hunger strike had achieved at least some of their objectives – particularly shining the international spotlight on their predicament.The court on Thursday denied Sánchez’s request to suspend his preventive detention, but he and the other prisoners were far from disheartened.

They said that “after a year of inaction, the Constitutional Court (TC) has now opened the door to the European Court of Human Rights” – a reference to the requirement that EU authorities can only consider such cases after all legal processes in the home nation have been exhausted.

Turull tweeted: “We ended the hunger strike: the TC moves and everyone is more aware of a lack of impartiality with which we will be judged. Now we have to prepare, also physically, for a long and hard trial. Thank you for your solidarity.”

READ MORE: Catalan political crisis 'should speak to all democrats'

Meanwhile, thousands of protesters are expected on the streets of Barcelona on Friday as Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez chairs a meeting of his council of ministers in the Catalan capital. Several grassroots groups have called for peaceful demonstrations, including a traffic “go-slow” in protest at the ministers’ presence.

The Spanish PM has faced criticism for holding the meeting on December 21 – the first anniversary of the elections forced on Catalonia by his predecessor Mariano Rajoy, which saw the pro-independence lobby retain power in the Catalan Parliament.

More than 1300 Spanish police and civil guard officers have moved into Catalonia over the past two days to provide security for the meeting of the council of ministers.

Their presence is seen as provocative, as Catalans remember only too well how the national forces used batons and rubber bullets to try to stop would-be voters casting their ballots in the October 2017 independence referendum.

The fragile dialogue between Catalan President Quim Torra and Sanchez was being tested last night when the two met for talks in Barcelona. One pro-indy figure said: “We all want to move forward, but we are walking through a minefield.”