BARCELONA, September 11 (Reuters) – Thousands of Catalans chanted, sang and waved flags as they marched through Barcelona on Saturday, calling for the region’s independence from Spain.
The march, organized by the base Assemblea Nacional Catalana ANC, was the first since the Spanish government pardoned nine Catalan separatist leaders who had been jailed for their role in a botched independence bid in 2017, which was the biggest political crisis of Spain for decades.
Most of the walkers wore face coverings. According to the police, around 108,000 people participated. The ANC estimated the figure at nearly 400,000.
The figure was lower than in 2019, when around 600,000 people marched, and last year, when only small, static protests were staged to comply with COVID-19 restrictions.
Some of the nine pardoned politicians and activists attended Saturday’s protests. In Catalonia, September 11 marks La Diada, the anniversary of Barcelona’s fall to Spanish forces in 1714 and has been marked over the past decade by separatist rallies.
“For the first time in four years, nine very special people have participated in La Diada again. Political prisoners are back in the streets, ”said ANC president Elisenda Paluzie.
Cultural activist Jordi Cuixart, who was among those imprisoned, urged the crowd to keep fighting for independence.
“Those who ask us to turn the page and don’t want us to fight for self-determination… What is Spain’s plan for Catalonia? No. Only repression and more repression, ”he declared.
The protests took place at a time of lower tension between Barcelona and Madrid than in previous years, as central and regional governments foster dialogue despite their opposing views on independence.
Central and regional governments are expected to meet next week in Barcelona to resume talks over the political conflict in Catalonia, which have been suspended since February 2020.
Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has yet to confirm whether he will attend, and the talks risk being overshadowed by a recent clash between the two governments over Barcelona airport.
The Spanish government said it was canceling a 1.7 billion euros ($ 2 billion) investment plan to expand the airport, saying it lacked support from regional authorities who questioned its potential environmental impact while accusing Madrid of acting dishonestly.
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Reporting by Joan Faus, Jessica Jones and Albert Gea, editing by Timothy Heritage
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