‘Come home’ Barcelona urges lead­ers’ re­turn

The Guardian Weekly - - International News - Sam Jones Madrid Pho­to­graph: Lluis Gene/Getty

More than 300,000 peo­ple are es­ti­mated to have taken to the streets of Barcelona last Sun­day to call for the re­turn of the 16 Cata­lan lead­ers who are in prison or have fled the coun­try fol­low­ing last Oc­to­ber’s uni­lat­eral in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum.

The mass demon­stra­tion, which was called by the two main Cata­lan pro-in­de­pen­dence groups and backed by the re­gional branches of Spain’s two big­gest unions, took place under the slo­gan “For rights and free­doms, for democ­racy and co­he­sion, we want you home!” Po­lice put the at­ten­dance at 315,000, while the or­gan­is­ers said 750,000 peo­ple took part.

The for­mer re­gional pres­i­dent, Car­les Puigde­mont, who fled to Bel­gium at the end of Oc­to­ber and is on bail in Ger­many, tweeted that the march was “a great civic and demo­cratic demon­stra­tion”, adding: “We are Euro­pean cit­i­zens who just want to live in peace, free and with­out fear.”

Elsa Ar­tadi, a spokes­woman for Puigde­mont’s To­gether for Cat­alo­nia party, said the event put paid to sug­ges­tions the in­de­pen­dence move­ment was run­ning out of steam. “We’re here to­day be­cause there are 16 peo­ple in prison or in ex­ile for de­fend­ing po­lit­i­cal ideas that rep­re­sent 2 mil­lion peo­ple,” she said.

The in­volve­ment of the Cata­lan branches of the Work­ers’ Com­mis­sions and Gen­eral Work­ers’ Union was not uni­ver­sally en­dorsed, as some mem­bers op­pose se­ces­sion. But Camil Ros, GWU re­gional sec­re­tary gen­eral, said: “The ma­jor­ity of Cata­lans, re­gard­less of their po­lit­i­cal po­si­tion, agree that pre-trial jail is not jus­ti­fied. What we as labour unions are ask­ing for now is di­a­logue.”

De­spite the huge turnout, polls sug­gest Cata­lans re­main al­most evenly di­vided over se­ced­ing from Spain. A re­cent sur­vey found that sup­port for in­de­pen­dence fell from 48.7% last Oc­to­ber to 40.8% in Fe­bru­ary this year.

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