French police have detained 18 pro-Catalan independence protesters and used pepper spray and batons to push back demonstrators who blocked a major border crossing between France and Spain for more than 24 hours.

The police then began towing away vehicles and debris and reopened the road to traffic.

The police action led to some scuffles, and some protesters could be seen crying from the effects of the pepper spray. The regional administration said no one was injured in the operation, which took all morning.

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Pro-Catalan independence demonstrators block a major highway border pass (Felipe Dana/AP)

Several hundred protesters remained gathered around La Jonquera crossing, and Catalan regional police from Spain were standing by.

The planned three-day protest started on Monday. It was organised by a clandestine activist group called Tsunami Democratic, which has staged many protests, some violent, since a dozen Catalan separatist leaders were convicted last month for their role in a 2017 push to make Catalonia independent from Spain.

The administration for the Pyrenees-Orientales region of southern France said the operation to clear the protesters was carried out in “close co-operation with Spain”.

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French police cordon off access as pro-Catalan demonstrators block the road (Joan Mateu/AP)

The A9-AP7 highway connecting Perpignan in France with Barcelona in Spain was cleared on Tuesday afternoon.

The highway is a key thoroughfare for trade and tourism between the countries, and thousands of vehicles were forced to detour through the Pyrenees to try to cross the border elsewhere.

Icy conditions in some spots complicated the journey.