Pro-independence supporters hold a Catalan separatist flag during a demonstration in Barcelona, Spain, April 15 2018. Picture: REUTERS
Pro-independence supporters hold a Catalan separatist flag during a demonstration in Barcelona, Spain, April 15 2018. Picture: REUTERS

Barcelona — Hundreds of thousands of people marched in Barcelona on Sunday to protest against the detention of nine Catalan separatists to be tried for "rebellion".

Many chanted "freedom for the political prisoners" as they marched along Parallel Avenue, one of the city’s main streets, many waving the red and yellow Catalan flag. The protest came six months after the first incarcerations of top Catalan separatist leaders for misuse of public funds, sedition and rebellion — which carries a prison sentence of 30 years and implies that a "violent uprising" took place — over their separatist push.

"Since they could not decapitate separatism, they are trying to do it through the courts," said Roser Urgelles, a 59-year-old teacher, at the protest.

"They need to demonstrate that there was violence to execute the sentences that they want, so they invent it," she said. "But we will continue to protest peacefully." Like thousands of others at the march, she wore a yellow ribbon to show solidarity with the detained leaders, whom Catalan separatists consider to be political prisoners.

Spain’s justice minister, Rafael Catala, has called the yellow ribbons "insulting", arguing that Spain has no political prisoners but "politicians in prison". The Guardia Urbana, a Catalan municipal police force, said 315,000 people turned out.

Grassroots independence groups

The demonstration was organised by two grassroots independence groups, the ANC and Omnium, the presidents of which are among the nine separatist leaders in prison awaiting trial for their roles in Catalonia’s failed 2017’s breakaway.

Hundreds of buses brought protesters from across the wealthy northeastern region of Spain to Barcelona, the Catalan capital, for the march. The protest was backed by the Catalan branches of Spain’s two largest trade unions, the CCOO and the UGT.

The secretary-general of the Catalan branch of UGT, Camil Ros, said that there had been tension among union members just as there was in the rest of Catalan society.

"But it is not a separatist protest. It is time to build bridges and the Catalan problem cannot be solved through the courts but by dialogue and politics."

AFP

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