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Anti-secession Catalans rally in Barcelona

October 8, 2017

Catalans opposed to the region's separation from Spain have held rallies in Barcelona amid the country's worst political crisis in decades. Madrid threatened to suspend Catalonia's autonomy if it declared independence.

Anti-secession protesters in Catalonia rally to stay in Spain
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/N. Carvalho Ochoa

Catalans calling themselves a "silent majority" opposed to their region's independence from Spain took to the streets in Barcelona on Sunday. Police estimated 350,000 people took part while organizers put the number of participants at nearly one million.

Thousands of people gathered on the city's Urquinaona square, waving Spanish, Catalan and EU flags while singing "Viva Espana."  

Read more: Opinion: EU silence on Spain-Catalonia dispute won't help

The "Enough! Let's go back to reason" event was organized by the Catalan Civil Society (SCC), which called on Catalans to make "our voices heard" as the "silenced majority."

Catalonia 'not a state like Kosovo'

Nobel literature laureate Mario Vargas Llosa and former European Parliament President Josep Borell — a well-known Catalan socialist —  addressed the protesters at the end of the rally.

"Besides Catalans, there are thousands of men and women from all corners of Spain who have come to tell her Catalan companions that they are not alone," said Llosa, a native Peruvian who received Spanish citizenship in 1993.

Borrell added that "Catalonia is not a state like Kosovo, where rights were systematically violated."

'Silent majority'

Spain has been plunged into political crisis since Catalan leaders went forward with an independence referendum on October 1, despite the country's constitutional court outlawing the vote.

The Catalan government on Friday said approximately 90 percent of those who voted opted for independence, although turnout was only 43 percent. Local media reported that many of those against independence boycotted the vote.

Read more: Catalan mayor feels Spain coming 'closer and closer' to dictatorship

However, Sunday's demonstrations marked a departure from earlier rallies for independence. "We've stayed silent too long," Aleix, an anti-secession protester, told DW.

Some protesters even demanded that Catalonia's separatist leader Carles Puigdemont be imprisoned for holding the October 1 independence vote in defiance of Madrid.

Although pro-independence politicians declared victory for the "yes" vote and plan to hold a parliamentary session Monday to formally announce independence, recent polls suggest Catalans are divided over leaving Spain. On Saturday, thousands of pro- and anti-independence supporters took to the streets across country to demand dialogue between Madrid and Barcelona.

Spanish security forces were widely criticized for their use of force during the independence referendum that left hundreds of people wounded.

Madrid's warning

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said on Sunday he would not rule out suspending Catalonia's autonomous status in the event it claimed independence, marking the premier's first remarks since last week's controversial referendum.

Read more: Spain's Article 155: the constitution's 'nuclear option'

"Ideally, it shouldn't be necessary to implement extreme solutions but for that not to happen things would have to be changed," the Spanish premier told the Madrid-based newspaper El Pais.

"I must do things at the proper time … I would like the threat of an independence declaration to be withdrawn as quickly as possible."

Apology from Madrid

ls,shs/tj (AFP, dpa)