▶ Na­tional day events turn out to be peaceful after height­ened ten­sions over Cata­lan push for in­de­pen­dence

The National - News - - WORLD NEWS - THE NA­TIONAL

Thou­sands of peo­ple marched through Barcelona on the coun­try’s na­tional day yes­ter­day, wav­ing both Span­ish and Cata­lan flags in their demon­stra­tion of op­po­si­tion to the re­gion’s push for in­de­pen­dence.

Chant­ing “I am Span­ish” and “Long Live Spain”, an es­ti­mated crowd of 65,000 marched on the city’s cen­tral square.

A sep­a­rate far-right march of about 200 peo­ple ended with the burn­ing of the un­of­fi­cial flag that has be­come a sym­bol for Cata­lan sep­a­ratists.

The turnout is far smaller than hun­dreds of thou­sands who turned out on Sun­day to protest against the push for in­de­pen­dence by the re­gion’s pres­i­dent, Car­les Puigde­mont, but high­lighted the di­vi­sions over the is­sue.

“We are now feel­ing that years of threats by sep­a­ratists have turned into an at­tempt to nor­malise so­cial division,” said Juan Jose Garde, a 63-year-old re­tired civil ser­vant.

The march passed off peace­fully de­spite a brief fra­cas be­fore the start of the march when two groups hurled chairs at each other be­fore they were sep­a­rated by po­lice. Mr Puigde­mont de­clared in­de­pen­dence on Tues­day but sus­pended the move to al­low for fur­ther dis­cus­sions with the cen­tral gov­ern­ment.

Prime min­is­ter Mar­i­ano Ra­joy’s re­sponse was dis­mis­sive, call­ing on Mr Puigde­mont to re­tract the in­de­pen­dence bid by yes­ter­day at the lat­est.

If the Cata­lan leader failed to do that, Mr Ra­joy in­di­cated that Madrid would take par­tial or to­tal con­trol of the re­gion us­ing pow­ers al­lowed un­der Spain’s con­sti­tu­tion.

Mr Ra­joy re­sponded in a tweet: “We de­mand dia­logue and the re­sponse is to put ar­ti­cle 155 on the ta­ble. Mes­sage un­der­stood.”

The end­ing of Cat­alo­nia’s au­ton­omy brings the prospect of a re­turn to the streets of po­lice to im­pose rule, fol­low­ing the vi­o­lence against vot­ers that marked Oc­to­ber 1 that left an es­ti­mated 900 peo­ple in­jured and in­flamed Cata­lans.Mr Puigde­mont yes­ter­day tweeted a link to a Hu­man Rights Watch re­port that was crit­i­cal of the Span­ish po­lice re­sponse to the Oc­to­ber 1 ref­er­en­dum that was de­clared il­le­gal by Span­ish courts.

Mr Puigde­mont has cited the poll to bol­ster his claim that he was fol­low­ing the will of the peo­ple with his dec­la­ra­tion of in­de­pen­dence. Some 2.3 mil­lion peo­ple voted in the elec­tion – some 43 per cent of the re­gion’s pop­u­la­tion – with 90 per cent back­ing in­de­pen­dence, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cials.

Op­po­nents of the ref­er­en­dum boy­cotted the poll, while po­lice closed polling sta­tions.

The largest na­tional day march was held in Madrid, where troops and po­lice pa­raded in front of King Felipe VI, who last week de­nounced the in­de­pen­dence bid in a rare tele­vised ad­dress to the na­tion.

Thou­sands of peo­ple lined the route of the pro­ces­sion wav­ing Span­ish flags on a day that commemorates Christo­pher Colum­bus’ ar­rival in Amer­ica.

Of­fi­cials from the Basque and Cata­lan re­gions, which have the strong­est in­de­pen­dence move­ments, have boy­cotted the pa­rade for years.

Some town halls in Cat­alo­nia said they would ig­nore the hol­i­day and work as usual.

The pi­lot of a fighter jet who took in the Madrid pa­rade died when his plane crashed while land­ing at a base at Al­bacete, some 200 miles south­east of the cap­i­tal.

We are now feel­ing that years of threats by sep­a­ratists have turned into an at­tempt to nor­malise so­cial division JOSE GARDE Re­tired civil ser­vant

Span­ish flags wave in Barcelona to cel­e­brate Spain’s Na­tional Day AP

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