One million people stormed through Barcelona in renewed calls for Catalan independence

Roser Villalonga – Pool /Getty ImagesUp to a million demonstrators can be seen from above as they march down the city center in Barcelona, Spain.
  • A crowd of up to one million people marched through the streets of Barcelona on Tuesday to celebrate Catalonia “National Day,” and to promote their bid for independence from Spain.
  • Catalan president Quim Torra and exiled former president Carles Puigdemont have cheered on the demonstrators.
  • The march comes a year after the region’s unsuccessful bid to separate from Spain.
  • Some speculate that unrest will spill over into the political arena, potentially triggering a snap election as early as next year.

A crowd of up to one million people marched through the streets of Barcelona on Tuesday to celebrate Catalonia “National Day” and to promote their bid for independence from Spain.

The annual celebration is one of Catalonia’s national symbols and commemorates the fall of Barcelona to Spain 1714. The event, which typically draws large crowds, has taken more of a political tone in the last several years as the northeast region has strengthened calls for self-rule.

Catalan IndependenceDavid Ramos/Getty Images

Protesters formed human towers and chanted calls for release of separatist leaders, including former Catalan Vice President Oriol Junqueras, who is being held in detention while awaiting trial.

Catalan president Quim Torra and exiled former president Carles Puigdemont led calls for rallying. Torra declared at the end of the rally: “We are starting an endless march.”

The protest comes a year after the region voted overwhelmingly in favour of separating from Spain, though the vote was deemed illegal by the Spanish government. Catalonia unilaterally declared independence on October 27, resulting in Spain ousting former president Carles Puigdemont and his government.

Catalan protest personSandra Montanez/Getty Images

Puigdemont and his officials were charged with rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds, and some fled to Belgium to avoid arrest. Spain eventually dropped its extradition request against Puigdemont, who remains in self-imposed exile in Belgium.

Spain’s new Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, who came to power in June, signalled a softer approach to Catalan separatists, and said Tuesday that the region needed “law and dialogue.”

Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau has been supportive of releasing the jailed separatist leaders, but did not attend Tuesday’s march. “I disagree politically with the separatists on many fronts, but I defend the rights and freedoms of our adversaries,” she said at a flower laying ceremony, according to El Pais.

Catalan protestSandra Montanez/Getty Images

Renewed calls for independence are likely to ignite lingering tensions in the region. Catalonia remains one of Spain’s major sources of economic power, and accounts for one-fifth of the country’s national GDP, according to Reuters.

Some speculate that unrest will spill over into the political arena, potentially triggering a snap election as early as next year.

According to a July survey, 46.7 per cent of Catalans are in favour of the region becoming an independent state, while 44.9 per cent oppose it.

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