People hold estelladas (Catalan separatist flag) during the National Day of Catalonia, known as ‘La Diada’, in Barcelona, Spain, September 11, 2021. Reuters/Albert Gay
September 11, 2021
BARCELONA (Reuters) – Thousands of Catalans chanted slogans, sang and waved flags as they marched through Barcelona on Saturday, calling for the region’s independence from Spain.
Grassroots march organized by Assembla National Catalana [ANC], was the first since Spain’s government pardoned nine Catalan separatist leaders who were jailed for their roles in the 2017 unsuccessful bid for independence, Spain’s biggest political crisis in decades.
Most of the marchers wore face coverings. Police said around 108,000 people took part. The ANC put the figure closer to 400,000.
The figure was lower than in 2019, when nearly 600,000 marched, and last year, when only small static protests were organized to comply with COVID-19 restrictions.
Some of the nine pardoned politicians and activists took part in Saturday’s protests. In Catalonia, La Diada, September 11, marks the anniversary of the fall of Barcelona to the Spanish army in 1714 and has been marked by separatist rallies over the past decade.
“For the first time in four years, nine very special people have participated in La Diada again. Political prisoners are back on the streets,” said ANC President Aliceda Paluzzi.
Jailed cultural activist Jordi Cuexert urged the crowd to continue the struggle for freedom.
“Those who ask us to turn the pages and do not want us to fight for self-determination… What is Spain’s plan for Catalonia? None. Only repression and more repression,” he said.
The protests took place at a moment of less tension between Barcelona and Madrid than in previous years as the central and regional governments favor negotiations despite their opposing views on independence.
The central and regional governments are expected to meet in Barcelona next week to resume talks on Catalonia’s political struggle, which has been suspended since February 2020.
Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has not yet confirmed whether he will attend, and the risk of talks has been downplayed by a recent clash between the two governments over Barcelona’s airport.
The Spanish government has said it is canceling a proposed 1.7 billion euro ($2 billion) investment to expand the airport, saying it lacks support from regional authorities, who have accused Madrid of acting dishonestly. Alleging that it has questioned its potential environmental impact.
($1 = 0.8465 Euro)
(Reporting by Joan Foss, Jessica Jones and Albert Gaye, Editing by Timothy Heritage)