Hundreds of thousands of Catalans packed the streets of Barcelona on Thursday to demand the right to vote on a potential split from Spain, their ambitions boosted by an independence referendum scheduled for next week in Scotland.
More than half a million Catalans signed up to take part, organizers said. They dressed in red and yellow, the colors of the Catalan flag, forming a V for vote in a show of support for holding a referendum.
In a festive atmosphere on Catalunya's national day, La Diada, people stood side by side along two of Barcelona's main arteries to form a huge V, with the red-and-yellow stripes of the Catalan regional flag, La Senyera, clearly visible from aerial footage.
Many wore T-shirts saying Ara es l'hora (Now is the time) in the Catalan language. Barcelona police estimated that as many as 1.8 million took part.
”We want a say in politics and our future. We've won back our sovereignty (by getting independence on the political agenda) and realized the strength we have, if we mobilize, to change things,” said Carme Forcadell, head of the National Catalan Assembly (ANC), one of the organizers of the event.
The Catalan regional government, which like other Spanish regions has a large degree of autonomy, has called a non-binding referendum on Nov. 9 over whether Catalonia should become a separate state.
The Madrid government says the vote is illegal and cannot go ahead and the issue is deeply entrenched, pitting Catalunya against the rest of Spain.
Polls show that 80 percent of Catalans want to vote on the issue.
Catalunya's campaign has drawn momentum from the upcoming referendum on whether Scotland should split from the United Kingdom, support for which has gained ground recently to make it a close call.
The government in London opposes Scottish independence, but says it will abide by whatever the voters decide.
The price of Spanish government bonds has been falling as edgy investors trim their holdings before Scotland's vote, where a victory for the nationalists would no doubt fuel Catalunya's demands.