Cata­lan sep­a­ratists rally in Barcelona

Sep­a­ratists ex­clude half of the Cata­lan pop­u­la­tion that does not favour in­de­pen­dence: Op­po­si­tion par­ties

Muscat Daily - - FRONT PAGE - Diego Ur­daneta

A closely-watched Cata­lan gov­ern­ment poll in July showed 46.7 per cent of Cata­lans want an in­de­pen­dent state, just ahead of 44.9 per cent who were op­posed

Around one mil­lion Cata­lans ral­lied in Barcelona on Tues­day, bang­ing drums and blow­ing whis­tles in a show of sup­port for in­de­pen­dence nearly a year af­ter a failed at­tempt to break away from Spain.

Wear­ing coral-red T-shirts and wav­ing the red, yel­low and blue Cata­lan sep­a­ratist flag, a sea of pro­test­ers gath­ered for the rally on Cat­alo­nia’s ‘na­tional day’ which com­mem­o­rates Barcelona’s fall to troops loyal to Spain’s King Philip V in 1714.

The an­nual ‘Di­ada’ hol­i­day has since 2012 been used to stage a mas­sive rally call­ing for se­ces­sion for the wealthy north­east­ern re­gion with its own dis­tinct lan­guage.

But this year’s event had par­tic­u­lar sig­nif­i­cance as a test of strength af­ter a ref­er­en­dum last Oc­to­ber 1, and the Cata­lan par­lia­ment's uni­lat­eral dec­la­ra­tion of in­de­pen­dence on Oc­to­ber 27, all came to naught.

Demon­stra­tors climbed on each oth­ers shoul­ders to form hu­man tow­ers, a Cata­lan tra­di­tion, while oth­ers car­ried yel­low and black signs that read ‘Free Cata­lan po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers now’, a ref­er­ence to Cata­lan sep­a­ratist lead­ers in jail await­ing trial over last year's in­de­pen­dence bid.

“I am out­raged... the po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers have to be re­leased now!,” said Santi Noe (54), who came to the rally from his farm in El Maresme near Barcelona on his green trac­tor, one of dozens of trac­tors at the event.

City po­lice said on Twit­ter that around one mil­lion peo­ple took part, a sim­i­lar amount to last year’s protest.

Or­gan­is­ers said they had sold over 200,000 coral-red T-shirts - the colour used in the ties used to se­cure the bal­lot boxes dur­ing last year’s con­tested ref­er­en­dum.

At the start of the rally demon­stra­tors knocked down a sym­bolic wall dec­o­rated with sep­a­ratist sym­bols, a metaphor for the power of the peo­ple to over­come ob­sta­cles and achieve in­de­pen­dence.

‘No plan’

Cata­lan Pres­i­dent Quim Torra said the rally marks the start of a ‘mass mo­bil­i­sa­tion’. Fur­ther protests are planned for an an­niver­sary of last year’s banned ref­er­en­dum, which was marred by po­lice vi­o­lence, and on the an­niver­sary of the failed dec­la­ra­tion of in­de­pen­dence.

In a tele­vised ad­dress on Mon­day, he said his gov­ern­ment was ‘com­mit­ted to im­ple­ment­ing the repub­lic’ Cata­lans voted for in the ref­er­en­dum.

But Oriol Bar­tomeus, pol­i­tics pro­fes­sor at the Au­ton­o­mous Univer­sity of Barcelona, said that ‘lis­ten­ing to the speeches of the sep­a­ratist lead­ers, it seems like there is no plan’.

Op­po­si­tion par­ties com­plain that sep­a­ratists have trans­formed the ‘Di­ada’ into a hol­i­day which ex­cludes the half of the Cata­lan pop­u­la­tion that does not favour in­de­pen­dence’. “To­day, more than half of Cat­alo­nia can­not cel­e­brate any­thing,” said Ines Ar­ri­madas, head of the cen­treright, anti-in­de­pen­dence Ciu- dadanos party in Cat­alo­nia.

A closely-watched Cata­lan gov­ern­ment poll in July showed 46.7 per cent of Cata­lans want an in­de­pen­dent state, just ahead of 44.9 per cent who were op­posed.

Sep­a­ratist par­ties won a slim ma­jor­ity of seats in the Cata­lan par­lia­ment in a De­cem­ber elec­tion, even though they cap­tured just 47.5 per cent of the pop­u­lar vote. “On a day like to­day, we Cata­lans should cel­e­brate our na­tional day and not just a call for in­de­pen­dence that is shared by less than half of the pop­u­la­tion,” Span­ish For­eign Min­is­ter Josep Bor­rel, who is Cata­lan, said in Strasbourg.

Sep­a­ratist di­vi­sions

There are also growing di­vi­sions in sep­a­ratist ranks - be­tween those who want to pro­voke a clash with Madrid and those seek­ing a more con­cil­ia­tory ap­proach.

“If a sep­a­ratist is so naive or stupid to be­lieve he can im­pose in­de­pen­dence on the 50 per cent of Cata­lans who are not (sep­a­ratists), it’s clear that they are mis­taken,” Joan Tarda, a law­maker for sep­a­ratist party ERC in the Span­ish par­lia­ment, said last week.

The ERC has a taken softer ap­proach than its ally in the re­gional gov­ern­ment - for­mer Cata­lan pres­i­dent Car­les Puigde­mont’s To­gether for Cat­alo­nia.

Puigde­mont was sacked by Madrid af­ter last year’s in­de­pen­dence dec­la­ra­tion and fled to Bel­gium.

Spain’s con­ser­va­tive prime min­is­ter Mar­i­ano Ra­joy then im­posed di­rect rule on Cat­alo­nia and called early elec­tions.

Ra­joy’s successor, so­cial­ist Pe­dro Sanchez, was cat­a­pulted to power in June with the sup­port of sep­a­ratist par­ties.

Sanchez has of­fered the re­gion a ref­er­en­dum on greater au­ton­omy, but this was re­jected by Torra, who in­sists Madrid must al­low a legally bind­ing in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum for Cat­alo­nia's 7.5mn peo­ple.

(AFP)

Pro­test­ers shout slo­gans dur­ing a demon­stra­tion against Cata­lan in­de­pen­dence and in favour of Span­ish unity while anti-far-right pro­test­ers (not seen) hold a counter rally in Barcelona on Sun­day

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