September 11, 2017
‘Independencia!’ Hundreds of thousands rally in Barcelona as tensions rise over vote to separate from Spain

BARCELONA, SPAIN—Hundreds of thousands of people packed the sunny streets of downtown Barcelona on Monday to celebrate Catalonia’s national day, an anniversary that provided a stage for the many Catalans who hope to vote within weeks for the region’s independence from Spain.

The Spanish city’s broad, tree-lined boulevards were a sea of yellow and red T-shirts that evoked the striped Catalan flag. Many participants carried the pro-independence flag, known as the “estelada,” which adds a blue triangle and white star. The crowd passed a giant banner calling for a secession referendum overhead.

This year’s annual celebration came amid growing excitement and tension over the independence vote planned for Oct. 1. Spain’s constitutional court has suspended the referendum while it considers its legality, but Catalan leaders say they will go ahead with it anyway.

Spain’s national government, based in Madrid, is doing all it can to stop the ballot, which it says is illegal. Catalan independence parties said the huge turnout — estimated by Barcelona’s municipal police at one million — in the regional capital was a show of strength that would add momentum to their cause.

“Today we have said loud and clear that no orders from any court will stop us,” Jordi Sanchez, head of the grassroots movement Assemblea Nacional Catalana, said in a speech to the crowd.
While the standoff between Barcelona and Madrid is creating divisions, the good-humoured celebration attended by families produced no signs of conflict

Participants sang and clapped along to recordings of the Catalan anthem “Els Segadors” (The Reapers.) At one point, the crowd shouted in unison: “Independencia!” — Independence! The symbolic moment came after organizers counted down over a public address system to 5.14 p.m., which on a 24-hour clock is 1714.

That’s the year independence supporters regard as the point when Catalonia lost much of the self-governing power it enjoyed for centuries.a
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