Catalans rally for jailed comrades
Hundreds of thousands of Catalan separatists have rallied in Barcelona to demand the release of secessionist leaders being held in pretrial detention.
Demonstrators, including many from two pro-independence bodies, the National Catalan Assembly (ANC) and Omnium, carried a banner reading: “For rights and liberties, for democracy and unity, we want them back home.”
The groups’ leaders, Jordi Sanchez of the ANC and Jordi Cuixart of Omnium, are among nine awaiting trial for their part in last year’s botched bid for independence.
The Catalan chapters of Spain’s two leading trade unions, along with other civil society groups, supported the protest despite complaints from some anti-independence members. Barcelona’s police said 315,000 protesters took part while the organisers estimated that 750,000 people had turned out.
“The majority of Catalans, regardless of their political position, agree that pretrial jail is not justified,” said Catalan UGT union leader Camil Ros. “What we as labor unions are asking for now is dialogue.”
Former regional president, Carles Puigdemont, who fled to Belgium at the end of October and is on bail in Germany, tweeted that the protest was “a great civic and democratic demonstration”. “We are European citizens who just want to live in peace, free and without fear,” the self-exiled leader said.
Elsa Artadi, a spokeswoman for Puigdemont’s Together for Catalonia party, said the rally disproved suggestions that the independence movement was running out of steam.
“We’re once again showing all those who say that the movement is demobilising, or that people are tired, that things aren’t that way,” Artadi said. “We’re here today because there are 16 people in prison or in exile for defending political ideas that represent 2 million people.”
Pro-independence parties retained a slim majority in Catalonia’s parliament after an emergency election on December 21, but Madrid’s courts have blocked their attempts to elect a Catalan president who is in detention or has fled overseas.
A poll by the Catalan government in February said support for independence had decreased to 40 per cent from nearly 49 per cent in October.
An the overwhelming majority of Catalans favour a legal referendum agreed between Madrid and Barcelona.
The Bank of Spain’s governor, Luis Maria Linde, said that political tensions in Catalonia could damage confidence in Spain’s economy.
“Internally, political tensions in Catalonia could generate episodes of lack of confidence,” Linde told the Spanish parliament.
The Spanish economy has remained mostly unaffected by the Catalan secessionist movement but it has unnerved investors and prompted hundreds of companies to move or review investment plans in the region.
Many Catalans refuse to back down. Picture credit: YouTube