With Spain officially pulling the trigger on Article 155, and activating the Spanish Constitutional “nuclear option” this morning, when PM Rajoy said he would seize control of the Catalan government, fire everyone and force new elections in six months, attention has shifted to the Catalan response. And as we waited for the official statement by Catalan separatist president Carles Puigdemont, expected at 9pm local time, we found him taking to the streets, where he led hundreds of thousands of independence supporters in protest around Barcelona on Saturday, shouting “freedom” and “independence” following the stunning news from Madrid earlier on Saturday.
The protest in the center of the Catalan capital had initially been called to push for the release of the leaders of two hugely influential grassroots independence organisations, accused of sedition and jailed pending further investigation. But it took on an even angrier tone after Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy announced his government would move to dismiss the region’s separatist government, take control of its ministries and call fresh elections in Catalonia.
According to municipal police, over 450,000 people rallied on Barcelona’s expansive Paseo de Gracia boulevard, spilling over on to nearby streets, many holding Catalonia’s yellow, red and blue Estelada separatist flag.
Catalan regional vice-president Oriol Junqueras and Catalan regional president
Carles Puigdemont attend a demonstration on October 21, 2017 in Barcelona
Protesters greeted Puigdemont’s arrival at the rally with shouts of
“President, President.” The rest of his executive was also there.
For at least some locals, the time to split from Spain has come: “It’s time to declare independence,” said Jordi Balta, a 28-year-old stationery shop employee quoted by AFP, adding there was no longer any room for dialogue.
Others disgree: “The Catalans are completely disconnected from Spanish institutions, and particularly anything to do with the Spanish state,” said Ramon Millol, a 45-year-old mechanic.
Meritxell Agut, a 22-year-old bank worker, said she was “completely outraged and really sad.” “They can destroy the government, they can destroy everything they want but we’ll keep on fighting.”
Catalonia is roughly split down the middle on independence, but residents cherish the autonomy of the wealthy, northeastern region, which saw its powers taken away under the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco. Which is why, as many have warned, Madrid’s move could anger even those against independence.
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