Huge rally in Barcelona rejects secession attempt
Hundreds of thousands take to streets in support of united Spain
BARCELONA, Spain — Hundreds of thousands of Catalans took to the streets of Barcelona on Sunday to voice their opposition to the region’s declaration of independence amid vast political uncertainty for the region in northeast Spain.
Catalonia’s political leadership was fired Saturday by central authorities in Madrid who are trying to tame the worst political crisis Spain has seen in decades. So far, Catalan’s former leader has insinuated that he won’t step down.
Waving Spanish, Catalan and European Union flags, the protesters described themselves as the silent majority who have been ignored during the wealthy region’s bid for independence, which came to a head Friday when the regional parliament voted to secede from Spain.
“We have organized ourselves late, but we are here to show that there is a majority of Catalans that are no longer silent and that no longer want to be silenced,” said Alex Ramos, head of Catalan Civil Society, a pro-union grassroots group.
The organizers said more than one million people turned out, but police put the figure at 300,000. There was no way to immediately reconcile the figures.
The mood at Sunday’s rally was festive. “We won’t let Spain be torn apart into pieces,” read one banner. “The awakening of a silenced nation,” read another.
In response to the lawmakers’ secessionist vote, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy triggered unprecedented constitutional powers, firing Catalonia’s secessionist regional government and calling an early regional election for Dec. 21.
Today will be the first working day since the region declared independence and its leadership was fired. It was not known how Catalonia’s estimated 200,000 public workers would react to their bosses’ dismissal.
Ousted regional leader Carles Puigdemont has called for Catalans to engage in peaceful opposition to Spain’s takeover of regional affairs, saying he and his fired cabinet would keep “working to build a free country.”
Separatist parties and grassroots groups have spoken of waging a campaign of disobedience to hamper the efforts by central authorities to run the region.
Puigdemont and his ministers could face prison for their separatist actions. Spain’s government has said the ousted Catalan leaders could be charged with usurping others’ functions if they refuse to comply with their firing. Spanish prosecutors have also said they may consider rebellion charges against leading separatists.
Oriol Junqueras, the ousted vicepresident of Catalonia’s rebellious government, wrote in an open letter Sunday that separatists should consider participating in the election Rajoy called for Dec. 21. Some secessionists have argued to boycott the vote.