The capture of Catalonia's former President has sparked major protests in the Spanish region's capital, Barcelona.

Five months after going on the run from Spanish authorities, Carles Puigdemont was detained in Germany on an international warrant today by highway police after the ardent separatist crossed the border with Denmark.

Puigdemont's capture, aided by Spanish intelligence services, sparked protests of tens of thousands in Catalonia's main city and other towns in the wealthy northeastern corner of Spain.

Some of the demonstrators clashed with riot police, leaving more than 50 civilians and police officers injured and leading to four arrests.

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Puigdemont will appear before a German judge tonight NZT.

Spain was plunged into its worst political crisis in four decades when Puigdemont's Government flouted a court ban and held an ad-hoc referendum on independence for the northeastern region in October.

The Catalan parliament's subsequent declaration of independence received no international recognition and provoked a takeover of the regional government by Spanish authorities that they say won't be lifted until a new government that respects Spain's Constitution is in place.

Spain's state prosecutor office said it was in contact with its German counterparts to carry out its request to extradite Puigdemont to Spain, where he faces charges including rebellion that could put him in prison for up to 30 years.

In Barcelona, riot police shoved and struck protesters with batons to keep an angry crowd from advancing on the office of the Spanish Government's representative.

Police vans showed stains of yellow paint reportedly thrown by protesters.

Reinforcements were called in after several hours to clear the neighbouring streets, with protesters tossing street barriers and burning two garbage bins as they retreated.

Yellow paint, allegedly thrown by protesters, stains the uniform of a Catalan regional police officer in Barcelona. Photo / AP
Yellow paint, allegedly thrown by protesters, stains the uniform of a Catalan regional police officer in Barcelona. Photo / AP
A man sits on the ground holding his head as Catalan regional police officers clash with pro-independence supporters in Barcelona, Spain. Photo / AP
A man sits on the ground holding his head as Catalan regional police officers clash with pro-independence supporters in Barcelona, Spain. Photo / AP

Outside the city centre, groups of demonstrators cut off traffic on four different stretches of highways.

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Police also used batons to keep back a crowd of a few thousand who had gathered in front of the Spanish Government's representative in the city of Lleida.

German highway police stopped Puigdemont near the A7 highway that leads into Germany from Denmark, police in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein said.

DPA said that Puigdemont was taken to a prison in the northern town of Neumuenster. Photos showed a van with tinted windows believed to be carrying Puigdemont as it arrived at the prison. Video footage also showed the same van leaving a police station in Schuby near the A7 highway.

State prosecutors in Schleswig said that Puigdemont will appear in court in the northern German town to confirm his identity. It said in a statement that "the question of whether Mr Puigdemont has to be taken into extradition custody will then have to be determined by the higher regional court in Schleswig."

German state prosecutor Ralph Doepper told RTL Television that Puigdemont has been "provisionally detained. He has not been arrested."


- AP