Hundreds of thousands who want Catalonia to remain part of Spain have rallied in Barcelona, two days after separatists voted for the wealthy region to secede. Organizers said the goal of Sunday’s march’s was to defend Spain’s unity and reject “an unprecedented attack in the history of democracy”.
Leaders of rival pro-union parties from the ruling conservatives, the pro-business liberals and the socialists joined together under the slogan “We are all Catalonia. Common sense for co-existence!” Grassroots group Societat Civil Catalan called for those who oppose Catalonia breaking away to march at noon.
Demonstrators, many waving Spanish, Catalan and European Union flags, flooded a central boulevard. The mood was festive and jubilant, with no incidents reported.
Three weeks ago, the same group organized a mass rally that brought hundreds of thousands on to Barcelona’s streets. That was by far the largest pro-union show of force in Catalonia in recent years, in contrast to huge rallies by separatists.
“We have organized ourselves late, but we are here to show that there is a majority of Catalans that are no longer silent and that no longer want to be silenced,” Societat Civil Catalana president Alex Ramos said.
Members of Spain’s central government, including health minister Dolors Montserrat and Enric Millo, who is Madrid’s representative in Catalonia, also attended the rally. No major pro-independence marches were expected.
Catalonia’s separatist leader, who was sacked along with his regional government on Saturday, has called for Catalans to engage in peaceful opposition to Spain’s crackdown to keep the country together.
The vote by pro-independence parliament members on Friday in favor of secession, and Madrid’s response, triggering unprecedented constitutional powers taking control of Catalan affairs, was the climax of Spain’s worst political crisis in decades. Of the 135 members of the Generalitat, 70 voted for independence, ten against, two abstained and the rest walked out of the House.
Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy also dissolved Catalonia’s parliament and called a new regional election for December 21.
Separatists won only 48% of the vote in Catalonia in the last regional election in 2015, but took more seats because of Spanish election law which gives more weight to sparsely-populated areas.
The top politicians for pro-union parties wanted to use Sunday’s rally as a launch pad for the critical elections in just over six weeks.
“It’s time to take over the streets and take over the ballot boxes,” said Albert Rivera, the leader of the centre-right Citizens party.
In an open letter in Catalan newspaper El Punt-Avui on Sunday, Oriol Junqueras, the ousted vice president of Catalonia’s rebellious government, said separatists should consider participating in the elections. His call was in response to some secessionists who argue to boycott them.