BARCELONA ground to a halt yesterday as thousands of people took to the streets in a general strike called to coincide with the trial of Catalan independence leaders in Madrid.

Protests began early yesterday morning with dozens of main roads and rail lines blocked. Catalan police said they arrested four people when they tried to clear crowds who had stopped traffic.

Emergency services said at least 22 people were treated for minor injuries and police said 12 officers were hurt in clashes with protesters.

Although the protest was not formally called because of the trial – on paper, they were demanding improved social policies and a higher minimum wage – demonstrators carried pro-independence flags and chanted slogans calling for the release of the 12 political and cultural figures on trial.

In the Supreme Court, one of the best-known indy figures – Jordi Sanchez, former head of the Catalan National Congress (ANC) – began his evidence by declaring that he was a “political prisoner”.

He said: “This is a political trial. And all accusations by the prosecutors are false.

“I’m convinced that I’m here today because I was the president of the Catalan National Assembly.”

Sanchez, who is charged with rebellion and a potential 17-year sentence if found guilty, led a protest outside the Catalan economy ministry in September 2017 in response to Spanish police raids seeking evidence related to the referendum.

He said people had spontaneously started protesting at the police action and the then interior minister, Joaquim Forn, who is also on trial, asked him to “help with security and public order”.

Sanchez told prosecutors: “The protest was peaceful. This is what is seen in the security cameras of the surrounding buildings. The protest was dissolved in part by the calls that we made Jordi Cuixart and me.

“In no case was there anything that prevented the departure of the judicial committee. It is ... false that an assault would be launched in the Department of Economy.

“I can be a pro-independence, but not an idiot.”

The trial continues on Tuesday.