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LLEIDA, Spain (AP) — Spanish police on Monday escorted two trucks loaded with pieces of medieval religious art from a museum in the city of Lleida amid protests after a court ordered Catalan authorities to hand them over to the neighboring regional government of Aragon.
Catalan regional police cordoned off the area around Lleida Museum from early Monday as technicians prepared to remove the 44 pieces, originally housed in Aragon's Sijena monastery but bought by Catalonia from nuns in 1983.
In 2015 a court ruled the sale illegal and ordered the works returned.
Several hundred people, including many pro-Catalan independence supporters, turned up to protest the transfer and there were brief scuffles and police baton charges as officers tried to move them further away from the museum. The artwork was taken away in trucks escorted by Spanish Civil Guard police.
Both Aragon and Catalonia claim the art pieces are part of their respective cultural heritage. The pieces include mortuary boxes and alabaster reliefs.
The dispute has also become a political issue as it comes while Catalonia continues without a government and parliament after Spain dissolved both and called fresh elections for Dec. 21 in its crackdown on the region's independence push.
Fugitive ousted Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont, who is in Belgium, and other pro-independence politicians accuse Spain of making most of the moment to pillage the art from Catalonia.
But Spanish Culture Minister Inigo Mendez de Vigo said Monday the court ruling had to be obeyed.
A further 50 pieces bought from the nuns were returned in 2016 by Catalonia's National Art Museum.