WORLD One million show up for Catalonia's 'National Day' demonstration


One million show up for Catalonia's 'National Day' demonstration


02:20, September 13, 2018


(Photo: CGTN)

Security was tight for Catalan National Day on September 11. 

Wearing bulletproof vests and holding submachine guns, Catalan regional police set up roadblocks to ensure the large crowd at the demonstration on the Avenida Diagonal, which cuts across Barcelona from the Mediterranean Sea to the hills, would not end up like the one that rocked the Catalan capital in August 2017. 

There were no security incidents this September 11, but lots of political implications. 

Barcelona municipal police estimated one million people turned out for the massive demonstration in favor of the region breaking away from Spain. 

With T-shirts and banners and all manner of signs demanding independence, another equally potent theme at the demonstration was a call for freedom for nine Catalan leaders in pre-trial prison on rebellion charges, for pushing for independence a year ago. 

The ousted Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, remains in exile in Belgium, facing similar charges if he returns home. As do several of his former aides, who are in Switzerland, Scotland or Belgium. 

It made for a markedly different pro-independence demonstration than in the past seven years in Barcelona. At that time, many people in Catalonia thought the long dream of independence was close. 

But the mood is different after last year's series of events which saw a disputed referendum on independence on October 1, a unilateral declaration of independence in the Catalan parliament, and the Spanish government exercising emergency powers to take direct control of Catalonia, the wealthy region in northeastern Spain that represents about 20 percent of Spain's GDP.  

"Well, what do you think is different? We have people in prison," said Liam Patton, a software technology owner. 

Another protester, Cristina Fernandez, said she's seen a difference since last year's tumultuous events but added, "I am not disappointed. I am stronger than in every other moment. Because I'm really looking forward for the freedom for my kids."

Her two young children, a boy and a girl, were with her and her husband at the demonstration for independence, like a lot of other families. 

Another difference from a year ago are numerous indications of a division among the various parties and groups that have promoted independence. 

The new Catalan government president, Quim Torra, told reporters on September 11, "There are differences between us. But all of us are united with the idea of the Catalan republic." 

At his side, the government's foreign minister, Ernest Maragall, said the independence movement last year was sufficiently strong to stand up to the Spanish state, which doesn't allow any region to unilaterally break away. He said the Catalans also have to get more of Europe interested in Catalonia's independence, which so far has not generated much sympathy. 

But Torra said talks are now ongoing with Spain's new Socialist government about a possible new referendum, which many in Catalonia have demanded. 

But there's no agreement on what the referendum might contain. Absent, in a big way, at the demonstration on September 11 were the Catalans who want to remain in Spain. 

Recent polls, and statements from leaders, suggest the seven million Catalans are almost evenly split, for and against independence.

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