The local police said at least 3,50,000 people were on the streets, waving the Spanish and Catalan flags and carrying banners saying “Catalonia is Spain” and “Together we are stronger”.
They poured into the city centre at a time when politicians on opposing sides hardened their positions in the country’s worst political crisis in decades.
Catalonia, which has its own language and culture and is led by a pro-independence regional government, held a referendum on October 1, defying an order from Spain’s constitutional court that declared the vote illegal. More than 900 people were injured in the violence during voting, as Spanish police attempted to block the process.
Catalan authorities said the referendum showed voters overwhelmingly support independence – more than 90% of those who voted supported secession. But the turnout for the referendum was only 43%, with most residents who wish to remain in Spain staying home. The demonstration on Sunday [pictured above] was organised by the anti-independence group Catalan Civil Society to mobilise what it called a “silent majority” that opposes independence.
The latest protests increase the pressure on Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont to back away from declaring independence. He will address the regional parliament on October 10. Puigdemont said he was not in contact with the Madrid government because Spain refused to discuss independence.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has said he would not rule out removing Catalonia’s government and calling a fresh local election if it claimed independence. He is also considering suspending the wealthy region’s existing autonomous status.