Thousands of Catalans march in Barcelona in support of independence.

Thousands of Catalans marched through Barcelona on Saturday, chanting, singing, and waving flags in support of the region’s independence from Spain.

The march was organised by the grassroots Assemblea Nacional Catalana ANC, and it was the first since Spain’s government pardoned nine Catalan separatist leaders who had been imprisoned for their role in a bungled independence drive in 2017, which was Spain’s worst political crisis in decades.

The majority of marchers donned face masks. According to police, approximately 108,000 people participated. According to the ANC, the total is close to 400,000.

 

The figure was lower than in 2019, when about 600,000 marched, and last year, when only small static protests were organised to comply with COVID-19 restrictions.

Some of the nine pardoned politicians and activists attended Saturday’s protests. In Catalonia, Sept. 11 marks La Diada, the anniversary of the fall of Barcelona to Spanish forces in 1714 and it has been marked in the past decade by separatist rallies.

“For the first time in four years, nine very special people have participated in La Diada again. The political prisoners are back on the streets,” said ANC chairwoman Elisenda Paluzie.

Cultural activist Jordi Cuixart, who was among those jailed, urged the crowd to continue to fight for independence.

“Those who ask us to turn the page 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 lower tension between Barcelona and Madrid than in past years as the central and regional governments favour dialogue despite their opposing views on independence.

The central and regional governments are expected to meet next week in Barcelona to resume talks on Catalonia’s political conflict, which have been suspended since Feb. 2020.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has not confirmed yet whether he will attend, and the talks risk being overshadowed by a recent clash between both governments related to Barcelona’s airport.

The Spanish government has said it is cancelling a proposed 1.7-billion-euro ($2-billion) investment to expand the airport, saying it lacked backing from regional authorities who have questioned its potential environmental impact while accusing Madrid of acting dishonestly.

($1 = 0.8465 euros)

 

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