Hundreds of thousands march for Spanish unity

A group of angry unity protesters marched on the Catalan regional government headquarters in Barcelona on Sunday (October 29), shaking barricades and shouting at Catalan police who were guarding the building.
Protesters singing and clapping as they march through Barcelona's streets in sea of red-and-yellow Spanish flags yesterday.
Protesters singing and clapping as they march through Barcelona's streets in sea of red-and-yellow Spanish flags yesterday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

BARCELONA • Hundreds of thousands of Spaniards rallied in Catalonia's capital, Barcelona, yesterday, waving national and European flags and chanting "Viva Espana!" to denounce regional lawmakers' vote to sever the region from Spain.

Protesters swarmed, singing and clapping, through Barcelona's streets in a sea of red-and-yellow Spanish flags, brandishing placards reading "De Todos" (It belongs to all of us).

By lunch time, police estimated some 300,000 anti-secessionists had flocked to the city centre, while organisers put the crowd count at 1.3 million.

Spain's biggest political crisis in decades mounted last Friday when secessionists in the Catalan Parliament voted to declare the wealthy north-eastern region of some 7.5 million people an independent republic.

The central government reacted by temporarily stripping the region of its autonomy, declaring the dismissal of secessionist regional president Carles Puigdemont and his executive.

"We are all Catalonia," proclaimed a massive banner yesterday, as marchers, young and old, chanted "Prison for Puigdemont".

"I am enraged about what they are doing to the country that my grandparents built," said protester Marina Fernandez, a 19-year-old student from Girona, a separatist stronghold.

She said that in her hometown she cannot speak out for Spanish unity or "leave my house with the Spanish flag".

The deputy president of the deposed Catalan government lashed out at Madrid, meanwhile, over what he called a "coup d'etat".

"The president of the country is and will remain Carles Puigdemont," the deposed leader's deputy, Mr Oriol Junqueras, wrote in Catalan newspaper El Punt Avui.

Mr Junqueras used the word "country" to refer to Catalonia, and signed off as the region's "vice-president".

"We cannot recognise the coup d'etat against Catalonia, nor any of the anti-democratic decisions that the PP (Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's ruling Popular Party) is adopting by remote control from Madrid," he wrote.

On top of firing Catalonia's regional government, Mr Rajoy dissolved its Parliament and called Dec 21 elections for a new one.

The Catalan crisis was triggered by a banned independence referendum on Oct 1 that was shunned by many and marred by police violence.

Ms Ines Arramadas, leader of the anti-secessionist Ciudadanos party, told journalists at the march that most Catalans wished to "recover our future".

"The majority of Catalans feel Catalan, Spanish and European," she said, a day after thousands of people took part in a similar march in Madrid.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 30, 2017, with the headline 'Hundreds of thousands march for Spanish unity'. Print Edition | Subscribe