Spain celebrates national day amid Catalan secession crisis
Thousands of Catalans who want their region to remain in Spain marked the country’s national day Thursday, marching through Barcelona waving both Spanish and Catalan flags and shouting “I am Spanish,” as the region’s threats of independence have left the country in crisis.
Meanwhile, in the national capital Madrid, troops and police paraded in front of King Felipe VI, accompanied by national and regional politicians. Thousands of people waving Spanish flags lined the sidewalk of Madrid’s Paseo de la Castellana avenue for the military parade.
The pilot of a fighter jet taking part in the Madrid parade died when the plane crashed while landing at a base in Albacete, some 300 kilometres (200 miles) southeast of the Spanish capital, authorities said.
In Barcelona, Catalonia’s capital, a crowd of people that local police said numbered 65,000 marched to a central square, some with their faces in the red and yellow colours of both the Spanish and Catalan flags and shouting “Viva Espana” — “Long live Spain.”
“We are now feeling that years of threats by separatists have turned into an attempt to normalize social division,” said Juan Jose Garde, a 63-year-old retired civil servant who was joining a national day march for the first time after years of enjoying the holiday by taking his family to the beach.
For many others, Thursday’s march in central Barcelona was also a first.
Montse Sanchez, a 56-year-old Catalan bank clerk, said she only felt the urge to protest when the separatists’ bid recently became “an imposition of thought.”
“They want to impose on us the ideas of one, but in Catalonia we are more than one, we are many people with very different feelings toward nationality,” she said.
The slogan of the march was “Yes to Catalonia. Spain, too,” supporting Catalan autonomy, but within Spain as a whole.
Two small groups of protesters clashed as the unionists’ demonstration was getting underway, throwing chairs and bottles taken from a cafeteria terrace at each other. An officer was injured when local police intervened to separate them, Barcelona’s urban guard said. It was unclear what sparked the violence or who was involved, but the main demonstration led by civil society groups opposing the separatist bid in Catalonia wasn’t disrupted.
A separate protest of around 200 supporters of far-right and Spanish nationalist groups ended at Barcelona’s Montjuic hill with speeches and the burning of an “estelada” the unofficial flag that has become a symbol for Catalan separatists.
Catalan regional President Carles Puigdemont announced Tuesday that he was proceeding with a declaration of Catalan independence, but proposed freezing its implementation for a few weeks to allow for dialogue and mediation with the national government in Madrid.
Speaking in the national parliament Wednesday, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy asked Puigdemont to clarify whether or not he had actually declared independence, adding that the Catalan leader’s response would be crucial in deciding “events over the coming days.”
A man carries a dog wearing the Spanish colours while people celebrate a holiday known as “Dia de la Hispanidad” or Spain’s National Day in Barcelona, Spain yesterday.