‘Come home’ Barcelona urges leaders’ return
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.