BARCELONA, Oct 29, (AFP): Hundreds of thousands of Spaniards rallied in Catalonia’s capital Barcelona Sunday, waving national and European flags and chanting “Viva Espana!” to denounce regional lawmakers’ vote to sever the region from Spain. Crowds of protesters swarmed, singing and clapping, through Barcelona’s streets in a sea of red-and-yellow Spanish flags, brandishing placards reading “De Todos” (It belongs to all of us). Municipal police said the crowd numbered about 300,000 while organisers said 1.3 million turned out and the central government’s representative in Catalonia put the figure at one million.
Spain’s biggest political crisis in decades mounted on Friday when secessionists in the Catalan parliament voted to declare the wealthy northeastern region of some 7.5 million people an independent republic.
The central government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy reacted swiftly by temporarily stripping the region of its autonomy and declaring the dismissal of secessionist regional president Carles Puigdemont and his executive. “We are all Catalonia,” proclaimed a massive banner, as marchers, young and old, chanted “Prison for Puigdemont”. “I am enraged about what they are doing to the country that my grandparents built,” said Marina Fernandez, a 19-year-old student from Girona, a separatist stronghold. She told AFP she cannot speak out in her hometown for Spanish unity or “leave my house with the Spanish fl ag”. Meanwhile, the deputy president of the deposed Catalan government lashed out at Madrid, over what he called a “coup d’etat”.
“The president of the country is and will remain Carles Puigdemont,” the deposed leader’s deputy, Oriol Junqueras, wrote in Catalan newspaper El Punt Avui. Junqueras used the word “country” to refer to Catalonia, and signed off as the region’s “vice president”. “We cannot recognise the coup d’etat against Catalonia, nor any of the anti-democratic decisions that the PP (Rajoy’s ruling Popular Party) is adopting by remote control from Madrid,” he wrote. On top of firing Catalonia’s government, Rajoy dissolved its parliament and called Dec 21 elections for the region.
Spain’s ambassador to France, Fernando Carderera said Puigdemont will be “invited to present his candidacy” for the election. Flor Pena, a 59-year-old originally from the northwestern autonomous region of Galicia, described the separatist actions as “shameful”. “The thing to do now is to beat them at the polls,” she said. She was part of a throng gathered near the spot where tens of thousands of people had celebrated the new “republic” with song, wine and fireworks on Friday. “They have made fools of us,” Miguel Angel Garcia Alcala, 70, who had travelled from the town of Rubi, 22 kms (14 miles) from Barcelona, told AFP.