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Mass march for Spanish unity after Catalan move

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Pro-unity supporters take part in a demonstration in central Barcelona, Spain, yesterday. Reuters

BRUSSELS (AFP) – Hundreds of thousands of Spaniards rallied in Catalonia’s capital Barcelona yesterday, waving national and European flags and chanting “Viva Espana!” to denounce regional lawmakers’ vote to sever the region from Spain.

Protesters swarmed, singing and clapping, through Barcelona’s streets in a sea of red-and-yellow Spanish flags, brandishing placards reading “De Todos” (It belongs to all of us).

Municipal police said the crowd numbered about 300,000 while organisers said 1.3 million turned out and the central government’s representative in Catalonia put the figure at one million.

Spain’s biggest political crisis in decades mounted on Friday when secessionists in the Catalan parliament voted to declare the wealthy northeastern region of some 7.5 million people an independent republic.

The central government reacted by temporarily stripping the region of its autonomy, declaring the dismissal of secessionist regional president Carles Puigdemont and his executive.

“We are all Catalonia,” proclaimed a massive banner yesterday, as marchers, young and old, chanted “Prison for Puigdemont”, and “Long live Spain, long live Europe, long live the King!”

“I am enraged about what they are doing to the country that my grandparents built,” said protester Marina Fernandez, a 19-year-old student from Girona, a separatist stronghold. She said that in her hometown she cannot speak out for Spanish unity or “leave my house with the Spanish flag”.

The deputy president of the deposed Catalan government lashed out at Madrid, meanwhile, over what he called a “coup d’etat”. “The president of the country is and will remain Carles Puigdemont,” the deposed leader’s deputy, Oriol Junqueras, wrote in Catalan newspaper El Punt Avui. Mr Junqueras used the word “country” to refer to Catalonia, and signed off as the region’s “vice president”.

“We cannot recognise the coup d’etat against Catalonia, nor any of the anti-democratic decisions that the PP (Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s ruling Popular Party) is adopting by remote control from Madrid,” he wrote.

After firing Catalonia’s regional government, Mr Rajoy dissolved its parliament and called December 21 elections for a new one.

Flor Pena, a 59-year-old originally from the northwestern autonomous region of Galicia, described the separatists’ actions as “shameful”.

“The thing to do now is to beat them at the polls,” she said.

“They have made fools of us,” Miguel Angel Garcia Alcala, 70, who had travelled from the town of Rubi, 22 kilometres from Barcelona said. “It is illegal what they have done… They are dictators.”

The Catalan crisis was triggered by a banned independence referendum on October 1 that was shunned by many and marred by police violence.

Ines Arramadas, leader of the anti-secessionist Ciudadanos party, told journalists at the march that most Catalans wished to “recover our future”. “The majority of Catalans feel Catalan, Spanish and European,” she said, a day after thousands of people took part in
a similar march in Madrid.

An opinion poll published in centre-right newspaper El Mundo yesterday said separatist parties would lose their majority in Catalonia’s regional parliament if elections were held today.

As prosecutors prepared to file charges of rebellion against Mr Puigdemont next week, he called Saturday for “democratic opposition” to Madrid’s decision to impose direct rule.

The immigration minister of Belgium, itself dealing with political tensions between French- and Flemish-speaking residents, said yesterday it could offer Mr Puigdemont asylum.

“It’s not unrealistic, looking at the current situation,” Theo Francken, a member of the Flemish separatist N-VA party, told broadcaster VTM.

Spain’s ambassador to France, Fernando Carderera, meanwhile, said Mr Puigdemont will be “invited to present his candidacy” for the December elections.

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