Basques form human chains to demand an independence vote
Thousands of people formed human chains in cities across Spain’s wealthy northern Basque Country on Sunday to call for the right to hold a regional referendum on independence.
Demonstrators held long multicolored cloths as they marched through the Basque capital Vitoria, commercial hub Bilbao and the seaside resort of San Sebastian, as well through Pamplona in the neighboring Navarra region, which has a huge Basque-speaking population.
Many protesters were draped in red, white and green Basque flags.
The demonstration was organized by pro-independence platform Gure Esku Dago (It’s in Our Hands), and was backed by separatist parties as well as dozens of local sports and arts personalities.
The group in June 2014 organized a 123-kilometer (76-mile) human chain across the Basque Country, stretching from Durango in the north to Pamplona.
“More and more people believe that the right to decide concerns all of us and that we have the right to decide our future,” the head of left-wing separatist coalition Bildu, Pello Urizar, told journalists in San Sebastian.
In Bilbao, the demonstration snaked along the Nervion river and past the city’s iconic glass and titanium- covered Guggenheim Museum, while in Pamplona the human chain linked the city’s five main squares.
The Basque Country, which has its own distinct language and culture, has traditionally sought greater self-rule from Spain.
The demonstrations were followed by rallies with live music and dance performances at the main stadiums in Bilbao and San Sebastian and at Pamplona’ bullring, one of the world’s largest.
Campaigners set up large ballot boxes made of cloth at the rallies to symbolize the vote on independence from Spain that they wish to hold.
Basque public television carried live coverage of the human chains and rallies throughout the day, while Spain’s national networks provided scant coverage of the events.
“In a democratic society it is positive and good that individu- als and civil society exercise their freedom of expression, assembly and protest to demand rights,” said Jose Erkoreka, spokesman for the Basque government which is headed by the nationalist PNV party.
“This is a reflection of a healthy society, which has concerns, aspirations and which mobilizes.”
A peaceful Basque independence movement has gathered pace in recent years, partly inspired by large pro-independence demonstrations in Catalonia, which in November 2014 held a symbolic vote on independence in the face of opposition from Spain’s central government.
The armed Basque separatist group ETA is accused of killing 829 people in a four-decade campaign for the independence of the Basque region that straddles the French and Spanish border.
The group, which has been weakened by a string of arrests and dwindling popular support for its violent tactics, announced an end to armed struggle in 2011 but has so far refused to disband or disarm as demanded by the Spanish and French governments.
A cameraman films on long multi-colored cloths displayed on the pitch of the Anoeta stadium representing a giant ballot box during a demonstration organized by pro-independence platform “Gure Esku Dago” (It’s in our hands), in San Sebastian, Spain on Sunday, June 21.