BARCELONA, Oct 8, (Agencies): Around 350,000 people attended a rally in favour of Spanish unity in Barcelona on Sunday, municipal police said, while organisers put turnout at 930,000 to 950,000. The demonstration comes as Catalonia’s separatist leaders have vowed to declare independence for the wealthy northeastern region of Spain following a banned secession referendum on Oct 1.
Those numbers resemble the proindependence rallies that Barcelona has seen in recent years. Many in the crowd who marched through the city center under the slogan of “Let’s recover our common sense!” carried Spanish, Catalan and European Union flags. Some chanted “Don’t be fooled, Catalonia is Spain” and called for Catalan president Carles Puigdemont to go to prison. Sunday’s rally comes a week after the Catalan government went ahead and held a referendum on secession that Spain’s top court had suspended and the Spanish government said was illegal.
Catalan authorities say the “Yes” side won the referendum with 90 percent of the vote, though only 43 percent of the region’s 5.3 million eligible voters turned out in polling that was marred by police raids of polling stations on orders to confiscate ballot boxes. Puigdemont has pledged to push ahead for independence anyway and is set to address the regional parliament on Tuesday “to report on the current political situation.”
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy vows that his government will not allow Catalonia, which represents a fifth of Spain’s economy, to break away from the rest of the country. In an interview with the Spanish newspaper El Pais published Sunday, Rajoy said that he will consider employing any measure “allowed by the law” to stop the region’s separatists. Rajoy said that includes the application of Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, which would allow the central government to take control of the governance of a region “if the regional government does not comply with the obligations of the Constitution.”
“The ideal situation would be that I don’t have to find drastic solutions, but for that to happen there will have to be some rectifications (by Catalan leaders),” Rajoy said. Rallies were held Saturday in Madrid, Barcelona and other cities to demand that Rajoy and Puigdemont negotiate to find a solution to Spain’s worst political crisis in nearly four decades. Pro-union forces hope to gather steam with Sunday’s protest in Barcelona after a series of large businesses, including Catalonia’s top two banks, announced they were relocating their headquarters to other parts of Spain. Other companies are reportedly considering leaving Catalonia to avoid being cast out of the European Union and its common market in the case of secession.
“We feel both Catalan and Spanish, Araceli Ponze, 72, said as she rallied in Barcelona. “We are facing a tremendous unknown. We will see what happens this week but we have to speak out very loudly so they know what we want.” The wealthy northeastern region of 7.5 million people, which has its own language and culture, held an independence referendum on Oct 1 in defiance of a Spanish court ban. More than 90 percent of the 2.3 million people who voted backed secession, according to Catalan officials. But that turnout represented only 43 percent of the regions 5.3 million eligible voters as many opponents of independence stayed away.