Pro-independence Catalans rally for jailed leaders in Barcelona | News | DW | 11.11.2017
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Pro-independence Catalans rally for jailed leaders in Barcelona

Thousands of Catalan separatists have protested in Barcelona for the release of regional leaders jailed by Madrid. Catalonia remains divided over independence — even Playmobil toys are being drawn into the struggle.

Thousands of Catalan independence supporters took to the streets of Barcelona again on Saturday, this time to demand that the government in Madrid release jailed regional leaders.

The protesters were wearing yellow ribbons on their lapels and holding photos of the imprisoned leaders.

Barcelona's municipal police put the turnout of the march at some 750,000 people.

"Look at all the people here," said Pep Morales, a protester. "The independence movement is still going strong."

The Spanish government detained eight members of Catalonia's now-dissolved parliament, as well as two leaders of pro-independence civil organizations, for their roles in an unconstitutional declaration of independence on October 27.

Their arrests came after Madrid enacted a constitutional article to suspend the wealthy region's autonomy and take direct control, dissolving the Catalan parliament and scheduling new elections for December 21.

Read more: Catalan independence - what you need to know

Carme Forcadell, the speaker of Catalonia's sacked parliament, was released from prison on Friday after her €150,000 ($175,000) bail was posted. Five other members of Catalonia's former parliament were granted bail Thursday after they testified before Spain's Supreme Court on charges of rebellion, sedition and misappropriation of public funds.

Catalonia's ex-leader Carles Puigdemont is currently in  self-imposed exile in Belgium, awaiting a hearing on his possible extradition.

Saturday's protests came days after a general strike called by a pro-secession union blocked roads and public transport in the northeastern region of Spain. 

Read more: Catalonia: 'Rajoy will not make concessions to anyone'

 

Spanien Protesten in Barcelona für die Freilassung der katalanischen Politiker (Reuters/J. Barbancho)

Barcelona rally participants holding placards reading 'freedom for political prisoners'

'Common noise'

Saturday's protest rally has been organized by two pro-independence groups, ANC and Omnium, whose leaders are also in custody.

Puigdemont called on the Catalans to create "common noise" during Saturday's protest.

"Although some of us are far away from you and others are in prison, we have an opportunity to express loudly and clearly that we want freedom and democracy," the ex-leader told Catalan television from his current location in the Belgium capital.

"We also want all those in prison or abroad to return," he added.

"Your light reaches us in Brussels and illuminates the path we must keep following," Puigdemont tweeted during the protest.

Puigdemont said he had traveled to Brussels to lobby European officials in favor of Catalonia's independence. But the European Union has not supported the Catalan cause, in part for fear it could embolden separatist movements in other member states.

Protest in miniature

Barcelona was not the only city in Catalonia where protesters could be found on Saturday — though those outside the capital were often smaller. In the city of Amposta, some 100 kilometers (62 miles) south of Barcelona, scenes at a three-day-long expo dedicated to the German toy Playmobil also showed off pro-independence sentiment.

Some vignettes had the plastic people holding signs identical to those of their bigger Barcelona counterparts calling for "political prisoners" to be freed.

In a reflection of the current deep divisions within Spain over Catalan independence, some Twitter users expressed disgust at the politicized toys and asked how far this craziness would go.

Since a contested independence referendum on October 1, several national unity rallies have also been held in the region. Catalonia's 7.5 million inhabitants remain starkly at odds over its independence bid. 

shs/kl (AFP, AP)

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