Huge crowds rally in Spain for Catalan autonomy | Europe | News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 11.07.2010

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Huge crowds rally in Spain for Catalan autonomy

More than a million people rallied in Barcelona on Saturday to call for greater autonomy for the Catalan region, a day after a constitutional court said there was no legal basis to recognize it as a nation.

Demonstrators wave Catalan flags in a protest in downtown Barcelona

Demonstrators wave Catalan flags in a protest in downtown Barcelona

The ruling also said the Catalan language should not take precedence over Castilian Spanish.

The decision came after a legal challenge to the Catalan region's statute of autonomy by the opposition conservative People's Party which favors a unified Spain. The statute of autonomy was approved by Catalan voters in a referendum in 2006.

The statute gave the Catalan regional government greater powers in taxation and judicial matters as well as more control over airports, ports and immigration.

A million people take part in protest march in Barcelona

Police said 1.1 million people attended the rally

The court ruled that the term "nation" defining Catalonia in the statute had no legal value because "the constitution only knows one nation, Spain."

Widespread support

Saturday's march in support of the statute of autonomy was led by the Socialist leader of the regional government José Montilla.

A huge Catalan flag with the slogan "we are a nation, we decide ourselves" was unfurled while the crowd held up thousands of red and yellow Catalan banners.

The statute has the support of the vast majority of political parties, trades union and social organizations in Catalonia, where a sizeable minority would like to see the wealthy region break away from Spain.

Self-rule powers

Spain's Socialist prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero

Prime Minister Zapatero says devolution is entering the last phase

The statute was one of the first initiatives of the Socialist government of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, which took office in 2004. But the opposition conservative claim the statute undermined the idea of Spain as a unified state.

It was approved by the parliament in Madrid in 2006 afer it was endorsed by Catalan voters in a referendum.

Catalonia is home to around seven million of Spain's population of some 47 million, and accounts for 25 percent of its gross domestic product.

Author: Nigel Tandy (AFP,dpa)

Editor: Sonia Phalnikar

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