Don't miss

Replay


LATEST SHOWS

PERSPECTIVE

Protecting heritage land against mining companies

Read more

BUSINESS DAILY

US tops list of most competitive economies

Read more

EYE ON AFRICA

South African musician Bongeziwe Mabandla on his 'urban African folk'

Read more

MEDIAWATCH

Reshuffle and a televised act of contrition for Macron

Read more

THE DEBATE

Macron malaise: Can the French president reverse his plummeting popularity?

Read more

ENCORE!

Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy on the red carpet in Paris

Read more

PERSPECTIVE

The dictator hunter: Reed Brody on bringing despots to justice

Read more

FOCUS

France explores alternatives to prison

Read more

IN THE PRESS

Blind support or strategic move? Australia mulls embassy move to Jerusalem

Read more

Catalans march for unity on Spain's national day

© AFP | People wave Spanish and Catalan flags at an anti-separatist rally on Spanish national day in Barcelona where they demanded "the unity of Spain and Catalan society which is more and more divided"

BARCELONA (AFP) - 

Tens of housands of Catalans who want their region to remain part of Spain marked national day Friday, marching through Barcelona in protest against leaders who brought the region to the brink of independence last year.

Waving both Spanish and Catalan flags and cheering Spain's king, the demonstrators made their way along the elegant Passeig de Gracia, home to some of the city's most luxurious hotels, to the central Placa de Catalunya square.

Organisers said some 300,000 people took part in the demonstration. Municipal police put turnout at 65,000 people.

"It is not so much about asserting of feelings of being Spanish. We came to demand unity, the unity of Spain and Catalan society which is more and more divided," Cristian Rodriguez, a 21-year-old student, told AFP.

Polls and recent elections show the Catalonia's 7.5 million residents are roughly equally divided by the secession question.

While supporters of independence have staged massive rallies in recent years, those who want the wealthy northeastern region to remain a part of Spain have remained largely silent.

But that changed after Catalonia's regional government in October 2017 pressed ahead with a banned referendum on secession and the regional parliament then declared the region's independence to no effect.

Spain's central government responded by sacking the region's government, led at the time by Carles Puigdemont, dissolving its parliament and calling early regional elections.

Sixteen Catalan separatist leaders, including Puigdemont who is in self-imposed exile in Belgium, are facing trial over their role in the separatist push. The trial is expected to start in early 2019.

"I ask that the judges who will have to issue sentences soon not be intimidated," said Javier Megino, the vice president of the group which organised the demonstration, "Spain and Catalonia", in an address to the crowd.

"Puigdemont to prison," the crowd chanted in response.

Puigdemont was replaced by Quim Torra as Catalonia president following snap polls in the region in December 2017 which saw separatist parties once again win an absolute majority in the regional parliament.

Torra's government is divided between those who back disobedience to advance the cause of independence and those who favour dialogue with new Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.

In power since June, Sanchez has taken a softer line on Catalonia then his conservative predecessor -- a stance which many at the demonstration criticised.

Esther, a 63-year-old pensioner who declined to give her last name, said the central government was making concessions to the Catalan government which was "giving wings to the separatists".

October 12 is known as Dia de la Hispanidad, or Hispanic Day, and celebrates Christopher Columbus' arrival in the New World. The day was declared Spain's national day in 1987.

© 2018 AFP